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The four causes

August 1991

Author’s note: This is a chapter from the larger work of which my book Feeling and Personhood is an extract.


Resonant causation

Formative causation

Intentional causation

Mechanical causation

The up-hierarchy of causation

The cycle of causation


Isomorphic in this conceptual scheme with the four worlds and four forms of knowledge are four basic kinds of causation. Table 13 shows the correlations. I shall give an account of each in turn, working up the up-hierarchy.

Practical-AffectiveExistencePracticalMechanical causation
Conceptual-PracticalEssencePropositionalIntentional causation
Imaginal-ConceptualAppearancePresentationalFormative causation
Affective-ImaginalPresenceExperientialResonant causation

Table 13 Modes, worlds and kinds of causation

Resonant causation

In the affective-imaginal world of presence we find resonant causation, the mutual and simultaneous impact of presence on presence, when, for example, two people gaze into each others eyes, or hold hands. It is also the mutual influence of qualities upon each other, when we apprehend the different colours of a painting in one inclusive act of awareness, or the simultaneous sounds of diverse instruments in an orchestral piece. In music various tones influence each synchronously, and that is exactly what we mean by a harmony. In this kind of causation there is no before and after to which cause and effect can be, respectively, assigned.

1. The account from mutual gazing. In mutual gazing, I project and receive and you receive and project all at the same time. Four processes are going on at once, two in me and the reciprocal two in you. To the extent that we allow ourselves to open fully to this kind of contemporaneous causation, we enter ever more deeply the nunc stans, the timeless present.

Your cause is its simultaneous effect on me, which interpenetrates my cause, which is its simultaneous effect on you, which interpenetrates your cause. These four processes are distinct yet interfused, transforming each other all at once. This is real power in the now. We are dynamically deepening our oneness while remaining entirely distinct. We participate in a dual-unity, experiencing a felt togetherness while rejoicing in our otherness. We are attuned at the level of our presence, our ground in immanent Being.

You might object to this idea of simultaneous causation in mutual gazing by invoking the time-lag argument. Thus it takes time from light to get from my eyes to yours, so the effect on you is after the cause in me. But this argument won’t do, since it is transcended by the mutuality of gazing, which is an interpersonal experience that interpenetrates eye-contact, but cannot be reduced to it. Taking up the gaze is to do with the dynamics of personhood which is supervenient on, but is not the same as, physical optics; the latter can be described in terms of efficient causality in the world of existence; but the former is in the world of presence where resonant causation applies.

This kind of causation is entirely in the present. It can go deeper and deeper into the present, because it never leaves it. Some mystics believe it is the only kind of causation there is – what goes on eternally in the nunc stans. This is tempting to believe, but implausible, since the nunc fluens, the moving present, is the other inalienable component of temporal being; and being is always, it seems, dipolar. Identifying fully with one pole is only a defense against coming to terms in an integral way with the other.

2. The account from mutual touching. In Chapter 5 I wrote of feeling and the communion of touch, which is another very accessible instance of resonant causation. An embrace, in which neither party is seeking to contain or dominate the other and in which both are clad in mutual sensitivity, gives immediate entry into a state of simultaneous reciprocal influence that deepens into timelessnesss.

Or take two people holding hands. My touch receives your touch, your touch receives my touch, and both become our touch while remaining distinct. My boundary becomes your boundary, your boundary becomes my boundary, and both become a shared boundary through which we interpenetrate without loss of difference. All this is occurring all at once. We fuse in the present in a unified field with two foci of being.

Touch has great affective flexibility. It can shift from the timeless now to the moving now, and from feeling to emotion, because of its mobility, range of movement and differential pressure. In a second it can move from resonant to mechanical causation, from causal synchronicity to causal efficacy, from I-Thou to I-it. It is one of the great schools for the initiation of consciousness in the structure and dynamics of the human condition.

3. The account from simultaneous movement. There is another readily accessible experience which reveals synchronous causation at work with its power to access the world of presence and the nunc stans. This is integrated bodily movement, which simply means moving every part of the body with simultaneous awareness of where each part is and what it is doing.

In such movement, my consciousness is extended throughout the whole three dimensional field of my body, and moves various parts of the body knowingly and at the same time in many different directions. This establishes synchronous resonance between the parts. To take but one example: where my right hand is going and where my left foot is going simultaneously influence each other. It is not that what my right hand does now causes my left foot to do something next; but that my right hand and my left foot both cause each other to do something now by virtue of what each is doing now. This reciprocal instantaneous causation plunges one deeper into the timeless moment.

Of course, we move a lot of the time in the flowing present, nunc fluens, in which a part of the body going here now, influences another part to go there next. To get out of the habit of this and really gyrate in the nunc stans, it is helpful to move very slowly.

4. The account from entrainment. This also known as mutual phase-locking. It is the very widespread tendency for things, animals and people to share rhythms, to vibrate in harmony. Any two frequencies that are relatively close to each other will, when brought near to each other, become precisely synchronous. Pendulum clocks side by side on the same wall will swing exactly together. When two oscillators are within range of each other’s frequencies they will suddenly lock onto the same pulsation. When two heart muscle cells with separate rhythms of contraction move closer together, before they touch there is a jump to rhythmic unison.

So-called ‘alpha animals’ are locked in phase with each other – in schools of fish or flocks of birds. Such a group is ‘more like a single organism than an accumulation of individuals…it is as if each member of the school knows where the others are going to move…The fact that they never collide fits this hypothesis’ (Partridge, 1982). Similarly, a close formation flock of birds flying at high speed can make a sudden change of course all at once without one bird banging into another. Indeed collisions seem to be virtually unknown among creatures of all kinds except humans.

When two persons are having a good conversation their brain waves will suddenly oscillate in unison. The same occurs between a lecturer and his or her students, but only when all concerned judge the occasion was a good one; and between preachers and their congregation, parents and children, wives and husbands. Rhythm sharing in human interaction has been identified in many different cultures, from Americans to Aborigines. Heartbeats between therapist and client can coincide. Women sharing the same room for some time may find their menstrual cycles become synchronous. (Leonard, 1978).

Entrainment is a basic experience for musicians in a group and for sensitive listeners to them. The members of a chamber music quartet or quintet are in a complex unitive field of mutual attunement: they don’t follow each other, they move along together in a state of continuous simultaneous resonance. This is even more evident in the sophisticated improvisation of a group of jazz musicians.

5. The account from synchronous events. Jung and the Jungians have given this notion a lot of publicity. It refers to the experience of meaningful coincidence when some external event symbolises a concurrent state of mind. An open door, and open book, a sign saying ‘Danger men at work’, an owl on the gatepost: any such phenomenon may coincide in meaning with the state of the mind that apprehends it.

This can degenerate into the superstitious reading of meaning into any old occurrence. But the genuinely synchronous event, when within and without are unified in one present field of meaning, is marked by a significant shift of consciousness into an altered state. Subject and object transcend their split into separateness and while still different become nonseparable, participating in a shared significance. This is an episodic and spontaeous occurrence of what I call post-linguistic perception.

6. The account from post-linguistic perception. Resonant causation can be found in post-linguistic perception, that is, a felt, imaginal transaction with being, liberated from the subject-object split that comes from the use of language and its conceptual overlay in perceiving. To disidentify from this conceptual component and dissolve away the subject-object split is to enter the nunc stans of post-linguistic perception, in which the imaginal mind and being engage in a simultaneous transaction to generate perceptual imagery.

The psyche is not separate from the perceived world, but spaciously all at one with it, while retaining the distinctness of its unique perspective. There is no subject over against an object, only one spatial whole with a centre and a circumference. The imaginal mind shapes out of being what being gives, and the shaping and the giving are simultaneous. They are also multi-modal in the perceptual sense, integrating sounds, sights, scents, tactile and kinaesthetic percepts. All is variety, sparkling with selective multiplicity, yet seamlessly present as an expansive whole. This is a one-many, many-one world: one presence inclusive of many presences, many presences showing one presence, full of differences that do not divide, distinctions that do not separate, with edges and boundaries that unite particulars in an unbounded oneness. There is a great diversity of beings all interpenetrating in the unifying ground of being.

To enter this kind of unified perceptual transaction with being it is necessary to disengage from the kind of ordinary perceiving in which the focus of attention is moving from one thing to another in the perceptual field. Perceiving in this manner is very much in nunc fluens, the moving moment: attention hops from one focal percept to another instant by instant, from sight to sight or sound or sensation or scent. But if this restless tendency is gently stilled, then we find we are participating in the generation of synchronous percepts. There is one field of simultaneous multiplicity.

Aesthetic experience, of course, takes us into this kind of awareness, and I have mentioned above the mutual resonance between qualities in the apprehension of a painting or a piece of music.

Formative causation

In the imaginal-conceptual world of appearance I propose the hypothesis of a universal process of formative causation, by which I mean the influence of one pattern upon another. In the world of presence, beings resonate with each other in simultaneous influence; in the world of appearance, I suggest that patterns have a tendency to shape each other. I must say at the outset of this section that my use of the term ‘formative causation’ is much wider than, but inclusive of, Sheldrake’s (1983) use, which refers to the effects of non-energetic ‘morphogenetic’ spatial fields in causing the development and maintenance of physical forms.

In the modern world view, process is more basic than structure; every stable structure is the manifestation of underlying dynamic processes, which in turn relate to an interconnected web of rhythmic patterns throughout the universe as a whole. Through this web there is a sense in which every pattern has an effect on every other pattern. For all practical purposes in terms of gross human perception, this effect is for the most part non-existent. But there are instances where it does seem to crop up in a sizable and substantial form. It is as if we are in the presence of the tendency of some large pattern to induce further patterning both in human behaviour and non-human events. Why such patterns should have this noticeable inductive effect and not others is not at present at all clear.

Such formative causation can work in an intensive mode, working from a subtle or unseen level to the external level of what can be seen. It is also evident in an extensive mode, working from one explicit pattern to another: a pattern that is perceived shapes another pattern that is also perceived. Our culture fights shy of owning and facing this phenomenon and its implications, yet in some of its instances it seems like a commonplace of everyday experience. So I will start with some suggestions about where it might be found. In all the sub-sections that follow, however assertive my grammar, I am exploring hypotheses worthy of closer inquiry, not propounding truths.

1. The account from music. The most obvious everyday example is the formative effect of certain rhythmic musical patterns on human behaviour. They make people want to dance and move in tune with the beat. Does anyone have any other or more pertinent explanation of this simple phenomenon? I suggest it is a case of one dynamic pattern, musical form, shaping another, dance form.

2. The account from psychosocial geometry. One example of seen-upon-seen is psychosocial geometry, or the effect on behaviour of relative position between any two people. When in social interaction two people can have many different geometric, spatial patterns.

One can be higher than the other: I can stand while you sit, or you can sit while I lie down, or you can stand on the stairs while I stand in the hallway. We can be on the same level, both standing or sitting or lying down. We can be close together or further apart: from touching each other, to very near, to conversational distance, to rather remote. We can face eath other directly, or be beside each other facing the same way, or beside each other facing opposite ways, or be back to back.

And all these three dimensions – of level, distance and direction – can be combined in all sorts of different ways. So we can be on different levels, quite far apart and facing each other; or on the same level, very close and facing the same direction, as with two people lying on their backs close beside each other.

The different spatial patterns will influence the shape of the patterns of behaviour between the two people. Thus physical closeness changes the shape both of what is said and how it is said in the direction of openness and mutual acceptance, but there are different effects as between face-to-face and side-by-side closeness. The field has been somewhat studied by social psychologists, using traditional inquiry methods. What is really needed, however, are studies using co-operative inquiry (Heron and Reason             , 1986; Reason, 1988), in which the researchers are also the subjects inquiring into their own experience by moving between phases of action and reflection.

David Wasdell (1991) has explored the effect of different spatial relations within a social triad. He has found that, with three people interacting when standing or seated in a triangular format, a right-handed person relates in a qualitatively different way to the person on their left than to the person on their right. The whole dynamic of a problematic interaction can be critically shifted if, for example, the latter two persons change places.

The micro-version of psychosocial geometry is the way each person shapes the interpersonal space they share by patterns of gesture, posture and facial expression. All these congifurations combine perhaps to exert formative causation of a major, minor or negligible kind on the responses of the other. The macro-version is when whole groups of people are interacting spatially in certain formations. This effect is used in ritual and in the theatre.

3. The account from space as statement. Let us suppose that the imaginal mind in its shaping of perception is carving three dimensional spaces out of the mutli-dimensional space of universal consciousness. On this view, any space, in whatever number of dimensions, is a form of universal consciousness. And each shaping of space is a local, limited statement of universal consciousness. It is an image with inherent meaning: what universal consciousness is saying with it and through it and in it. Any particular space is thus charged with significance and value – or disvalue.

Christopher Alexander, the architect, hints at this (Alexander, 1979, 1980) when he holds that space and value are not separate as in the alienated space of the Cartesian-Newtonian world-view. Rather ‘some kinds of space are simply more profound, contain more densely packed relationships, than others…they touch us by making us feel that there is feeling in them…they seem to connect us with the universe or even with what lies behind the universe.’ It also seems to me to be what Gaston Bachelard is moving towards in a work such as The Poetics of Space (Bachelard, 1969).

My hypothesis is that shaped space, which makes a statement of value or disvalue, is also a source of formative causation: it has formative potential, it can shape what goes on within it in certain ways. It may not always succeed in doing so, but it will ever be tending to do so. How the top of a Mayan pyramid in Palenque, Mexico, tends to shape human behaviour is very different from the vaulted chamber deep within its bowels. Split level rooms invite different behaviour to single level rooms. The quality of worship called forth by the internal shape of one cathedral is quite unlike that evoked by the different inner space of another.

And the point I am making here is to do with the inherent shape of the space, not to do with the psychic ambience or atmosphere built up by the way people have behaved within it. That is something else again, although there may be a significant connection between the two.

An acute case of shape having formative effects is in the work done in Eastern Europe on the quite precise physical effects attributed to certain shapes, simply by virtue of their shape. The effect may also depend on a certain material being used to make the shape, but it is the shape that is critical not the material: the material without the shape has no effect. It may be the shape has no effect without the material. But whether you say that the shape powers the material, or the material powers the shape, to have the effect, the basic point remains: the shape, qua shape, is having an effect. This kind of formative causation has entered new age pop-culture in terms of the pyramid effect.

4. The account from explicit design. Another hypothesis about the extensive type of formative causation is rather more extreme. It proposes that any explicit finished design – working drawings for the construction of a building, a piece of machinery, a railway line, or a toy, or detailed maps of countries, localities, towns and cities – any such pattern has a tendency to shape behaviour. In the case of the working drawing, the viewer is moved toward constructing the building, the machine or whatever; in the case of the map toward visiting and exploring the depicted area. Such tendencies may wax and wane as a function of various social and historical circumstances, but the hypothesis holds that they are always there however micro-effectual they may be.

5. The account from explicit percepts. Perceptual imagery itself is full of formative causation in the sense that its patterns shape our thought and verbal expression into metaphors and analogies. I see the spring and its image generates the metaphor of breath, so I speak of the breath of spring. I see my love and her image generates the analogy of a rose, so I write that my love is like a red, red rose.

It is as though the patterns which the imaginal mind lays down in perceptual imagery are continually at work reflecting back into the external levels of consciousness connections and affinities, interpenetrations and networkings, that speak of deeper layers of imaginal and archetypal reality.

6. The account from behavioural matrices. I will now switch over to look at some putative examples of formative causation working in the intensive mode – from unseen patterns into seen patterns. There is very familiar ground on which we can detect this mode at work – everyday behaviour. When I am busy in conversation and have someting to say, this is initially present in my mind as a pre-verbal, inchoate image charged with a meaning which I then turn into spoken language. My intention to speak is thus a midwife to the formative causation that is at work as the image shapes the spoken word.

It is the same with creative writing. I know the next thing I want to write down first of all as a germinal bundle of meaning that has no explicit conceptual-verbal form. It is a vague abstract image charged with meaning. which is prior to explicit written expression of that meaning. This image is a peculiar and paradoxical entity. I know what it means, because I can use it to shape language to make that meaning explicit. But until I have made that meaning explicit in language I cannot tell myself or anyone else what it does mean. I know what I mean to say before I have said it, and yet I do not know what I mean to say until I have said it. It is like pregnancy: you know there is a baby within, but you don’t know what sex it is, or the colour of its eyes, until it is born.

Here again I manifest formative causation, the effective influence of one pattern in shaping another: in a sense I simply allow the abstract meaning-charged image to shape the written words. Of course, I can influence the form quite a lot, preferring this word rather than that, one sentence structure rather than another. But the basic process of formative causation is a given which I just modify: I am the midwife at the birth.

I could invite the pre-verbal inchoate meaning-image to generate non-verbal configurations, as in music or drawing or painting. The creative musician or painter is very directly a midwife to processes of formative causation, in which significant patterns in the imaginal mind are helped to shape themselves into explicit music or paintings. The inherent meaningfulness of imagery per se, simply as pattern, is brought to the forefront of human culture through the arts, and through music especially.

Another very obvious example of such behavioural matrices – where the imaginal matrix shapes explicit behaviour – is in complex physical movements such as gyrations and turns of various sorts in the air, in diving, acrobatics, ice-skating. The art is to be fit enough and to get mentally out of the way enough so as to allow a clear and dynamic image of the activity to shape bodily behaviour. The performer does not do the movement but lets formative causation do it.

Because such actions are extreme, they make us more fully aware of the processes of imaginal formative causation that are essential to them. But the ordinary movements of everyday life follow the same principle, which has become so habitual in its application as to be unnoticed. In reaching for the glass, a spatio-temporal image of the entire gesture shapes the behaviour as it appears. Again, my intention simple guides and adjust this prior power of formative causation: the imaginal matrix delivers the physical act.

Human beings, in the heart of ordinary life, live in two closely interrelated worlds. At an inner level they live in a world of spatio-temporal matrices which both interpenetrate and transcend physical space and time. For these imaginal matrices comprise changes of spatial relationships over time. They are in the extended present of another time dimension, in which the past, present and future of my movement in the outer level of physical space and time occur simultaneously. So these formative images are spatial, but not in physical space, and in a time that transcends clock time.

The realisation of how formative causation works between these two levels of human reality has extensive implications for training, not only in sport and physical prowess, but in the whole field of interpersonal behaviour. The latter extends into charismatic training, for the pre-behavioural formative matrices can be charged with archetypal dynamics. The effective use of manner, bearing, timing and tone of voice in generating personal presence depends on the creation of appropriate matrices at the subtle level of human functioning. This overlaps with the ancient practice of mudras, sacred postures, in which the bodily posture is fashioned by patterned matrices deep in the imaginal mind which in turn are formed by archetypal dynamics within universal consciousness.

7. The biological account. Anotherhome of the unseen-on-seen effect is morphogenesis, the fact that forms develop their appearance unfolding from small, simple blobs to highly complex organisms with many different parts and functions. At each stage of development some new structure emerges which was not there before. It is as if some predetermined invisible pattern is revealing itself through the flow of time in the world of appearance.

And if some part of the developing system is removed at early stages, the organism will continue to produce a normal structure: the hidden pattern will reimpose itself despite the interruption. Kill off one cell in a two-celled embryo of a sea-urchin, and the surviving cell will produce a whole sea-urchin.

This idea is reinforced by the regeneration of destroyed or damaged parts. Plants and lower animals can replace and reform themselves to a remarkable degree. A small piece of flatworm can grown into a complete flatworm. If the lens of a newt’s eye is surgically removed, a new one will appear from the margin of the iris. Even in the higher mammals there is selective regenerative capacity, beyond the simple healing of wounds: the human liver will reconstruct itself totally when a substantial portion of it has been destroyed.

Regeneration is ongoing in the normal organism; parts that grow continuously are by definition continuously replaced; tissues that are lost by normal wear and tear are renewed; there is the process of regular restoration through sleep.

The hidden pattern has a functional as well as a structural aspect. This reasserts itself through a reorganisation of function when a part of the organism is destroyed. In human beings, there is functional compensation for some kinds of damage to the cortex, for removal of the entire colon, and so on.

Finally, there is reproduction itself in which a small detached part of the parent organism seems to carry the same hidden pattern, and becomes a whole new and separate organism of the same type.

To explain all this in terms of a genetic programme, as if there is nothing but mechanical chemical influence at work is to abuse the metaphor of a programme, by ignoring a necessary part of it, which is the meaningful pattern in the programmer’s mind which generates the programme.

The most intuitively plausible answer is some form of unseen matrix with spatio-temporal properties that has formative influence on what emerges within the world of appearance. Occultists have long believed this, and the idea is evident among non-mechanistic modern biologists. Driesch had the idea of a non-physical entelechy (derived from Aristotle) controlling and organising physical processes; Waddington talked of the chreode (from the Greek, ‘necessary path’); Gurwitsch and Weiss, and now Sheldrake, of morphogenetic fields (Sheldrake, 1983).

All these are related versions of the notion of an unseen pattern that shapes and sustains the emerging physical pattern. However, the fact that the pattern is unseen does not, of course, necessarily take us outside the domain of materialism, if matter is redefined so as to include, in an extended definition, invisible spatial structures such as gravitational, electromagnetic and morphogenetic fields.

8. The account from systems theory. Born about the same time as cybernetics and influenced by it, systems theory had its home in theoretical biology, and has been widely applied within the social sciences, and has been canvassed as the basis for a new world view (Capra, 1982). It is the process going on in the system as a whole that is causal in relation to what is happening to any part within it. Thus in family therapy it is the pattern of the game the whole family is playing that is causal in relation to what any one member of the family is doing in the circuit of interactions.

9. The account from cybernetics. Cybernetics was named by Norbert Wiener in 1947 and originally defined as ‘the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine’. Today it might be defined as the science of effective organisation and is closely related to systems theory (George, 1977). What comes out of cybernetics is a very broad ranging notion: the pattern of information flowing through a system controls its process and structure, whether that system is organic or inorganic. The point about a hot water tank with heater and thermostat is that all the mechanical processes going on in it are subordinate to, and controlled by, the negative feedback loop of information about temperature. The basic causation is formative, exercised by an unseen pattern of information flow. The mechanical causation involved is entirely circular; it can only be explained in terms of the more basic but interacting level of formative causation.

10. The perceptual account. The whole account of perception given in this book is that it is a product of the shaping activity of the imaginal mind, working at an unconscious level. We are aware of the content, the perceptual outcrop, of the formative process but not of the process itself, which is buried beneath the conceptual/discriminatory layer in perception which comes from our use of language.

But if we uncover this configuring activity and attend to our deepest participation in it, then we start to get gnostic intuitions of a shining, universal consciousness, a Great Mirror glistening with the archetypal origins of things. We get fleeting intimations of the remarkable and primordial patterns – of sounding light, or is it luminous sound -whose coded and reduced versions the imaginal mind pours into perceptual imagery. So perception itself proceeds from formative causation deep within the imaginal mind, where the seed-forms of alaya-vijnana (in Buddhism the eighth class of consciousness – basic universal consciousness or store-consciousness, where the archetypes of all things are stored (Govinda, 1960)) mould perceptual constructs.

11. The first language account. Let us have another convenient myth about the origin of the first human language. Since there is no language before the first, human beings have no conceptual layer in perception. There is no subject-object split, no hypostatisation (i.e. turning into separated things) of the perceptual imagery they participate in creating; instead people live, through their perceptions, in a dim, glimmering, low-differential, gnostic awareness of the archetypal realities of universal consciousness. They perceive a tree and suddenly give voice to their intimation of its archetypal origin. The word itself is a product of formative causation: it is shaped by the archetypal intimation. Once uttered and established it mediates dynamically between universal and empirical consciousness: it becomes a word of power for transmitting the sounding force of primordial treeness through the human imagination and its expression in voice. In the terms of this myth, the first language is a sacred language of power, charged with the elemental, creative force pouring into the imaginal mind from alaya-vijnana.

Of course, as the myth unfolds, things don’t stay like this. The original sacred power of the language, rooted in formative causation, is eroded because its words, which classify percepts into different kinds, become very useful for coping with the exigencies of material life. So the form of language changes; its sounds and written forms acquire purely conventional meaning.

Words are increasingly used by self-interested subjects to turn percepts into labelled external objects for purposes of everyday survival. The sacred power disappears and is replaced by total conceptual flexibility in the handling of general ideas, the notions of classes of things. While the majority of people use this flexibility for social, political and economic purposes, the elite of the culture use it to express a variety of different beliefs about reality. With practice they discover that neutral class-names, metaphorical derivatives and various logical connectors can be put together in all sorts of varying ways to give disparate intellectual perspectives on the world.

Unfortunately, all these belief systems get bedevilled in numerous subtle and not so subtle ways by the subjective-objective split which is inescapably presupposed by the use of language in this way. Only when the use of language becomes sufficiently sophisticated and reflexive to take this split into account, and understand it for what it is, does its use for the generation of belief-systems about the world become reliable.

12. The account from universals. Once language was established as a relatively independent system of class-names of things, activities and processes, of metaphors and logical connectors, then philosophical questions arose about the status of general ideas or universals, such as the idea of water, a mountain, a house, as distinct from any particular instances of the idea. Plato, Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists thought they were evidence in the human mind of a transcendent realm of divine formative archetypes on which all earthly forms were based. This assumed some kind of formative causation from there to here. This worried Aristotle, who therefore saw the universal embedded in things as a formal cause.

Probably both are right. Putting it in rather crude ontological terms, there is a case for a view of the universe of our experience which includes the following. There is transcendent universal, archetypal store-consciousness. There are distinct beings, presences, particulars, foci of being – the many centres of being as immanence. Each distinct being is clothed in a temporal form that originates from its archetype and unfolds in accordance with its entelechy or formative potential. So the entelechy is like the embedded representative of the archetype, moving the being in sequential stages to expand toward the full embrace of its archetype. What this rough model yields is two quite distinct levels of formative causation. There is the shaping power of archetype on entelechy, and of entelechy on the manifest form of the particular being.

This is analogous to the two levels which appear in my account of the imaginal process of perception. The imaginal mind participates in universal store-consciousness and receives from it a perceptual code, a programme of a body in a world. That is the first level of shaping, from store-consciousness to perceptual code. The next level is that in which this code deep in the imaginal mind moulds the explicit imagery of perception in its transaction with being and the network of beings.

13. The account from harmonic number. Since the time of Pythagoras there has been a potent mathematical mysticism which sees numbers and certain patterns of numbers as exercising formative causation on the perceived world. The idea was strongly prevalent among the founders of modern science as E. A. Burtt has convincingly shown (Burtt, 1932). Kepler believed fervently that he had discovered the mathematical basis of the harmony of the spheres in measuring the angular velocities of planetary movement at the extremes of their ellipses, finding therein the values of the seven primordial harmonies – octave, fifth, fourth, major sixth, major third, minor third, minor sixth.

Many physicists and mathematicians today probably secretly or tacitly believe in some kind of formative causation of a numerical sort. A writer like Berendt is quite explicit about it, and, like Kepler, relates it to sound. He points out that not every numerical value is a tone, but every tone is a numerical value; and that nature prefers numbers which are also tones. Harmonic, i.e. musical, values are found everywhere from electron spins to planetary orbits. It is sound, harmonic pattern, which is the formative causation of the manifest world (Berendt, 1987, 1988).

This idea of the formative power of inaudible, archetypal patterns of creative sound or vibration, is basic in the esoteric systems of Kundalini and Tantric Yoga in India, and of the Vijnanavada and Yogacara doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism. The whole idea of the mantra in these traditions is that it is an auditory image, which, if intoned in the right way and with the right intent deep in the imaginal mind, will by virtue of its inherent patterning refract the dynamic forces of archetypal creative sound emanating within universal consciousness (Govinda, 1960).

Intentional causation

In the conceptual-practical world of essence, we find intentional causation at work. By this I mean the direct causal effect of human intention. The world of essence is the world of conjectures, beliefs, models, maps, theories, laws, formulae at one pole; and of schemes, applications, plans and projects that look forward to action at the other. It is a human product, its conceptual beliefs and projects the results of human effort. It is as a whole and in all its details an intentional world: concepts becomes purposes and are directed toward some final goal (hence intentional causation has also been called final casuation) of understanding the world and of changing it.

1. The account from creating beliefs. So one account of intentional causation is in terms of the creation of belief-systems and change-projects. But the source of this creation is formative causation. If I intend to state my beliefs, I must first invoke or be smitten with a germinal image pregnant with their conceptual form. My intention then serves as midwife to this image by applying correctives to the power of the image to shape verbal expression. These are the autonomous criteria of the conceptual domain such as accuracy, relevance, comprehensiveness, consistency, and coherence with experience, which will themselves have been distilled out of germinal images at a prior stage of intellectual development.

2. The account from everyday behaviour. Intentional causation also occurs throughout everyday life when I engage in such actions as crossing the road, watering the garden and making a phone call. In the ordinary life-cycle of individuation I want something and have an image of it, then my intention is busy helping the image shape the action that will realise it. The image stirs the will to help it out: it gives intention its final end and recruits it as mediating agent.

On this analysis, intention is always a midwife to formative causation. This does not take away autonomy and the feeling of being in charge of what is going on. The idea is liberating: our wills float on a permanently available sea of formative power. We cannot be in charge of this ocean, but we can invite it to flow through us in an innumerable diversity of creative forms, shaping and modifying it on the way through.

3. The account from modifying given rhythms. It is fundamental given of life, that are options are subordinate to the great and small formative rhythms of the world. We cannot plan the seasons of the year, the cycle of day and night. Nor can we choose the rhythms of waking and sleeping, eating and excreting, breathing and heart-beat. What we can do is intend modifications and variations in how we respond to these cosmic and organismic patterns.

So I cannot decide to breathe, but I can vary the depth and rate of breathing. I cannot elect to be hungry and need food, but I can choose what and when to eat. What I am saying is that this fundamental phenomenon goes right through everything we do. Intention mediates between the formative power of the image and action, by modifying and varying the outworkings of that power.

4. The account from invocation, interruption and termination. Like everything at its own level, intention does have some autonomy. What it can do is to invoke germinal images and their formative power. You can ask for them to come your way. But once they come, if they come, then you are again in the role of midwife as they give birth to explicit words and behaviours.

The other thing you can do is to interrupt their conversion into external form and substitute a different one for the emerging one; or abort them and send them packing so that they don’t give birth to anything. Neither of these is easy when the formative power is making a strong claim on overt behaviour. Doing either may be attended by much uneasiness and distress.

5. The account from learning. This view of intention as a midwife to the prior process of imaginal formative causation has important implications for the theory and practice learning. If I want to learn a new skill it is best not to try to master it by conscious intention, but by letting the image of the skill sink into the motor cortex of the brain in a state of relaxation, then invoke the image to run the behaviour, with intention helping out here and there to keep the whole thing pouring out of the image. I shall consider this in the later chapters on learning when I look at the innovative or reversal cycle.

Mechanical causation

This is sometimes also called efficient causation, the effect of one occurrence of physical matter or energy on some other such occurrence. This kind of causation is at home in the world of existence, where leverage moves boulders, poison causes death, electricity procures light and heat, and the wind blows the window open.

Efficient or mechanical causation usually implies the temporal precedence of the cause – the cause is before the effect – and some physical contact between cause and effect either by material or energetic impact. It has been well explored by natural science and technology. It is an ultimate outcrop of resonant causation, because in the precise moment of contact between cause and effect there is an occasion of mutual encounter.

A systems/cybernetics theorist might regard all mechanical causation as contained within and subordinate to wider systems of formative causation, in which patterns of information flow determine what and when and how mechanical events occur and impact on each other.

The up-hierarchy of causation

In what sense, if any, is there an up-hierarchy of causation, in the sense that formative causation is somehow grounded on resonant causation, intentional on formative, and mechanical on intentional?

Certainly formative causation is in an important sense grounded on resonant causation. Take a morphogenetic field that is presumed to be overseeing the development of some organism from a primitive to a more advanced stage. There has to be something there, its parts resonating together in the now, for any development of anything to occur. Being is a precondition of becoming and receives it. The timeless moment is a precondition of the flowing moment and is its ground. Change pours into now. The organism comes into being.

And we have already seen that intentional causation depends on and is the midwife to formative causation. However it is not in any obvious sense clear that mechanical causation is grounded in intentional, except when human beings do things that have physical effects. Unless you assume, with Douglas Fawcett, that manifest creation depends on continuous intentional management by some hierarchy of unseen demi-gods.

The cycle of causation

Figure 21 The cycle of causations

The arrows in the figure do not mean that one sort of causation causes the next, but that it is the ground of the next, and provides the occasion for its emergence. Take two people in a state of mutual attunement. This provides the ground for the emergence, in one of them or both of them at the same time, of an image of some further way of being or doing together. This image is the formative ground for their intentionality to emerge in helping to give birth to the behaviour shaping power of the image. This intention is the ground for their two bodies to move around, impinge mechanically on and with things, and so set up a new scenario for mutual attunement. And the cycle goes round again.

Within this cycle there is a polar oscillation between the timeless present and the moving present. Resonant causation is within the timeless present, intentional causation is most engaged with the moving present – the will to achieve encounters the time series in its most extended form. Formative causation mediates between the timeless and the moving present, providing the rhythmic framework within which human intention can manifest. Mechanical causation mediates between the moving and the timeless present, bearing human intention back into the matrix of simultaneous resonance.

There is a clear distinction between the formative matrix of my physical organism with its dynamic pattern of interdependent rhythms, and the formative power of behaviour-shaping images. The former is continuous, a constant basis of my organismic being; the latter are ephemeral, they come and go. The former can exerts its influence irrespective of my intentions: when I am sound asleep, the bodies rhythmic patterns are not only unimpeded, they flourish in my absence. Whereas the behaviour-shaping images of waking life need to harness my will and intent as assistants.

But there are also very close interconnections and similarities. Let me call the matrix of the organism the o-matrix and behaviour-shaping images b-images. Then b-images are often representatives of the o-matrix as when I have b-images to do with meeting o-matrix requirements for sleep, food, excretion, air, exercise. So the o-matrix does need to harness my will and intent through b-images. Also some b-images can run behaviour without my will and intention. Indeed b-images can sometimes run riot without my will and intention and despite them.

The o-matrix and b-images can get into an unhealthy collusion: sleeping and excreting need a prior cigarette; eating needs much salt or sugar; breathing needs foul air. What we then need is an innovation cycle as in Chapter 1. One version of this is shown in Figure 22.

Figure 22 B-image innovation cycle

In this figure the outer cycle shows the mutual resonance (1) of all the cells, tissues and organs of the body as the ground for the workings of its formative matrix (2), which enlists b-images (arrow from 2 to 3) to harness intention (3) to organise sleeping, eating behaviour, etc., which influences the bio-chemical processes of the body (4), which in turn qualitatively affects the basic organismic resonance.

If the formative matrix is in collusion with corrupted b-images, then the innovative cycle can be applied, shown by the inner figure-of-eight. It starts with (1) tuning into organismic resonance by relaxation, then moving on to (2) the intentional invocation of a new kind of b-image, which is (3)visualised as coded within the formative matrix. This image as such is assumed and allowed to have bio-chemical impact (4), which affects organismic resonance (1), to which intention as attuned as it sustains the visualisation and keeps the cycle going. The supposition here is that by creating a purely imaginal innovative cycle, this will start in time to influence and alter the sort of b-images that the o-matrix harnesses.

It is highly likely that the o-matrix can be directly affected by certain kinds of images, as well as indirectly affected by b-images. I say b-images indirectly affect the o-matrix because they deal – actively or through visualisation – exclusively with the external management of its rhythms, they don’t deal with its immediate internal workings. But suppose you start entertain matrix-images which seek to affect how the matrix is shaping the body through its rhythmic patterning and general formative power. I shall call these m-images. Then you can use the innovative cycle for direct bodily control of heartbeat, temperature, tissue healing, metabolic rates, immune system responses, disease reduction of various kinds, and many other goings-on.