• Awakening Soul

The High Ideal of Metamorphosis







"... if we have managed to hold in our minds the pure idea, or mental image, of metamorphosis itself, as distinct from the theories that have been woven round it, we have, I believe, taken the first step towards perceiving one of Goethe’s Urphänomene. For metamorphosis, so apprehended, is really the Urphänomen, the archetypal phenomenon, of the whole of organic nature, of life itself."


- Owen Barfield, Goethe and Evolution



The theories that have been woven around the "pure idea" of metamorphosis reflect how we reduce it for our own comprehension. We have then comprehended some portion of the pure idea, from some limited spatiotemporal perspective, but this process of reduction is itself the most difficult thing for modern man to remember. Once the reductive process has taken place, we become completely enamored with our own reduced creations. While we gaze at these abstract thought-creations in wonder, our memory of how they came into being evaporates. To illustrate this process further, let's stop to reflect on our own thoughts right now. Where and when did they come from? How and why are they there? What exactly are they? Before the 15th century, the most 'sophisticated' explanations of where thoughts come from, such as the heart or - simply - God, now seem to us as the most naive superstitions. Now, we feel more 'enlightened' and a sense of pride in our 'better' understanding or, even worse, we feel pride in our better lack of understanding. We are proud that (a) our creations explain just about everything in our experience or that (b) we are the few fortunate souls who have understood our creations are forever destined to explain nothing.


The most accepted modern explanations put forth for the origin of our reflective thoughts fall roughly into three camps - secular evolutionary theory, religious fundamentalism, and mystical philosophy. The first explains our thoughts as electrochemical interactions which evolved over billions of years and, somewhere along the way - somehow - emerged into self-reflective thought. The second claims a transcendant God specially created human beings with a capacity for reflective thought, so they could reflect on Him until finally reaching heaven or hell. And the third takes evolutionary theory, transposes it onto an underlying 'consciousness', and claims this consciousness evolved from animal-like instinctive behavior to self-reflective thought by way of an unknown inner dynamic. What they all have in common is two elements - (1) they are not actually explaining anything about our thoughts and (2) they are all self-satisfied with their lack of explanation. When we wake up in the morning and reflect on our own thoughts, no matter which of these three views we hold - or what combination of them we have cobbled together - we still have no idea where and when they came from, how or why we are having them, or what they even are.


From the perspective of the reducing abstract intellect, this lack of knowledge is most clearly reflected in our dreams. To the extent we remember our dream-thoughts at all, many of the usual explanations fall completely flat. What experiences were informing the dream imagery, how/why were the images being connected in the way they were, what purpose are they serving in our biological evolution, and many similar questions cannot be answered. In fact, we can barely even imagine what the answer to these questions would look like. Would we even recognize the answers if we happened to stumble across them? All of these difficulties are born of the same reductive process that we are constantly forgetting we are engaged in. We may have even forgotten about that process while reading the above and trying to follow the logic as we briefly dipped into the abstract explanations. We must confront this honestly and see how fragile our current thinking organism has become; how little resilience it has when confronted with even the smallest amount of abstract resistance; the tiniest involution into the phantom layer of abstractions.


Once we think about this fact and really come to understand it, however, that understanding should be a great source of encouragement and inspiration. It reveals to us the true inner strength of our thinking organism. It provides us with clear and present evidence that our own careful reasoning can help us start remembering what we have long-forgotten. We have involuted our living ideas into abstract thoughts, and it is through re-membering that process that we actively participate in the evolution of our thoughts back to those living ideas. We are not all alone in this endeavor - the ideal evolution of Nature herself continues to provide us ever-more creative ways of reasoning through her appearances; navigating our mutual predicament of endless abstraction. Goethe truly laid the foundation of this living conceptual approach in the late 18th century. He began perceiving how this new stage of metamorphosis was manifesting through Nature's perceptual appearances, well before the living idea of "metamorphosis" was reduced to the abstract theory of "evolution". Below, he points to the metamorphic principle persistently working through the plant kingdom.



Microscopic observations have placed it beyond doubt that the generative organs of the plants as well as other organs are produced by spiral vessels. We take this as a basis for the argument that the different parts of the plant, which have so far manifested themselves to us in such varied forms, are none the less intrinsically the same...
Now as the spiral vessels are situated in the middle of the bundles (vascular bundles) and are enclosed by them, we can to some extent come to a better understanding of the above-mentioned strong contracting force if we imagine the spiral vessels, which really look like elastic springs, exerting their utmost power so that they overcome the expansive tendency of the sap-vessels...
In many cases the style looks almost like a filament without an anther, and the two are more nearly allied in exterior form than any of the remaining parts. As they are both produced by spiral cells, we see all the more clearly that the feminine part is no more a distinct organ than the masculine part, and when through this observation the close relationship of these feminine parts with the masculine becomes evident to us, we find it all the more appropriate and illuminating to think of their union as a kind of anastomosis.
- Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants (1787)


Goethe perceived how the green sap coursing through the expanding vessels of the plant, through the contracting spiral force, built up its body from root to stem, stem to leaf, leaf to flower, and flower to fruit. Abstract thinking tempts us to claim these are all different 'things', without any warrant, but concrete and living Thinking reveals the same polar relation to be responsible for the aesthetic stem, leaf, flower, and fruit alike. This entire development assumes, of course, that the plant organism receives its proper care and nourishment. Here we have the image of the Metamorphic princple which naturally reconciles the varied forms and 'genders' of all living organisms. It is the same principle we saw before in our own Thinking organism, from the involution (expansion) of living ideas rich with meaning into an over-populated world of abstract thoughts, and the evolution (contraction) of that world back to its living ideas rich with meaning, without losing the resolution gained through the process. This same principle works through our own 'sap', which we call "blood". Given the proper care and nourishment, our own thinking can metamorphose itself and our organism as a whole to ever-higher degrees of perfection.



“The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. The ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes these stages moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and constitutes thereby the life of the whole.”


― Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit



So we see the Darwinian principles of evolution do indeed point to the deepest reality - the pure Idea - but only if they are understood in their higher concrete expression of Metamorphosis. Once they are reduced to an abstract form, they begin to degrade from their living essence and come to serve the same placeholder function as any other abstract concept in our deadened thinking - god, substance, will, idea, ego-I, consciousness, matter, energy, nothingness, emptiness. The last two are at least unwittingly honest about how they are functioning in our thinking, which has involuted so far it has lost nearly all capacity to reflect meaning back to us. These concepts give us infinitely varied perceptions to stare at, but deprive us of Nature's meaningful qualities at the same time and to an ever-increasing degree. That is an entirely unnecessary one-sidedness of our thinking organism - our living Spirit - which at its core is no different from the sap which courses up the plant, through alternating polar forces of expansion and contraction, spiraling its way towards ever-higher and aesthetic expressions of its organic Unity.


This metamorphosis of Thinking will unfold to the extent we allow it to occur without arbitrarily stunting its growth, by refusing Nature the opportunity to run her course through us. We can act, through our concrete Thinking activity, as the spiral-and-sap vessels of her organism which build up the ideal Cosmic body. The ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics we currently seek through our entirely abstract thought-creations will then be revealed to us through the very nature of our Thinking itself. That higher Thinking is who we are, how we know who we are, what reveals the inner beauty of who we are, and what allows us to feel, desire, and act in harmonious accordance with who we are. Our metamorphosing thinking organism can attain degrees of freedom which allow it to perceive, not only what exists in front and below of it as its own abstract creations, but also what is behind and above it as the concrete meaning which created it. That is, our thinking organism can come to the perceive itself as Goethe's Urphänomen; as the concrete yet sublime principle of the eternal and metamorphosing Idea.