The Last Great Iper-soggetto Was God

Fundamentally we are all just basically trying not to die, or dissolve, or fade into chaos, etc, which are all effectively the same thing. There are an infinite number of ways to die, dissolve, or fade into chaos, and I suspect that we continue to create new ones all the time. We call it evil, bad, the devil, hell, any term you like for “that which is undesirable”. But of course that rather misses the point. Heaven always lies on the other side of hell, and in order to thrive, if not simply survive, we must continuously search out and find the means to weather or even enjoy minor acts of dissolution so that we can move beyond them.

Robert Kegan speaks of Subject/Object theory in human developmental terms as the contrast between that in which we are embedded and to which we are blind (Subject) as opposed to that which we can see, hold in our hand, and measure (Object). Subject is navigable only by feeling one’s way through it, and in fact, the tool used for that navigation is none other than the Jungian cognitive function of Feeling (be it in the Introverted or Extraverted orientation), whereas the cognitive function of Thinking (again Introverted or Extraverted) is the tool humans use to navigate Object. Jung and Kegan simply provide two views into the same phenomenon.

Feeling as a cognitive function, which must be understood as not synonymous with emotion, is a means of measuring based on guesses, hunches, heuristics, experience, intuition, or perhaps as a first-order reaction to emotion, where the question is effectively: which of Option A or Option B is better or at least preferable? It is applied to problems or contexts which are not amenable to logical Thinking, because no consistent relations have yet been discovered, if they ever will be. This is Subject. Thinking, on the other hand, is used to measure Object and is a matter of applying axiomatic or proven theoretical knowledge to determine if Option A or Option B is even true or logically consistent. Feeling deals with the unknown, which always surrounds us no matter how fervently people of a “scientific” mindset might wish or pretend that not to be the case. Thinking, on the other hand, deals with the known. Both are required, because everything in existence has known and unknown aspects. If all were known, then stasis would ensue, and stasis is just as deadly as chaos. If nothing were known, that would indeed be pure chaos, which most people intuitively understand as death itself. 

Indeed later developments of Jungian typology make the claim that Feeling is always paired with Thinking, and vice versa, albeit in the opposite orientation. There are obvious thematic relations to quantum complementarity, which is unsurprising since we as human beings, along with everything else in existence, are at our very basis quantum measurement devices. This must be true because if quantum fields underly all reality, as I understand quantum physicists to claim, then in order to do the work of surviving, how could we not in some way be attuned to and able to deal with quantum effects, even if only indirectly? However, we do still have the question: what does the Introverted vs Extraverted orientation of Jung’s Feeling or Thinking mean in terms of Subject/Object Theory?

Ken Wilber claims that the fundamental laws of evolution apply on every level of existence, from the smallest subatomic particle up through human beings. So we can use the atom as a reference point, or at least as an analogy. The nucleus of an atom is a relatively stable “thing”, an Object, or at least that could be said of protons and neutrons individually, whereas the electron cloud is very much not Object-like. It is measurable only in a probabilistic sense: an electron is likely, but not certainly, to be in this place or that at any given time based on equations that are however beyond my own knowledge. So then electrons correspond to Subject, irreducible to Object. To continue the analogy exclusively in terms of individual atoms, Thinking refers to the nucleus and Feeling to electrons. Since the nucleus is on the inside and electrons on the outside, this suggests Introverted Thinking paired with Extraverted Feeling.

The other pairing, Extraverted Thinking with Introverted Feeling, then remains to be explained, and the whole analogy cannot be completed until we move up a level in complexity, which process is the entire basis of evolution. An atom is never actually able to move its electron cloud from Subject to Object. Instead, the universe decides simply not to care so much because it has  found something more interesting to do through the discovery of a new type of Object that lies beyond the Subject of electrons, and which makes the immeasurability of electrons relatively less important than from the previous perspective. The new Object would be molecules. However, electrons remain Subject, only now they are internal, and thus the Extraverted Thinking of molecules paired with the Introverted Feeling of internal bonds can explore all the new possibilities of molecule formation.

Something similar must previously have happened to protons and neutrons themselves before they were sufficiently solidified, or in Ken Wilber’s terms, before they had been around long enough to have laid down cosmic grooves so deep that their behavior became increasingly constrained and unlikely to change. At every level of increasing complexity, from subatomic particles to atoms, to molecules, to cells, to tissues, to human beings, and all of the stages in between that I’ve omitted, the process remains the same. New Objects or “holons” or components-made-of-whole-subcomponents arise as the lower-level component on its own becomes insufficient to deal with increasing entropy in the universe. At every stage, new Objects are created or discovered by moving the previous Subject from external to internal.

Furthermore, and again as Wilber points out, the more recent the transition, the more fluid and reconfigurable the components are. That is to say, atoms are unlikely to stop acting like atoms, or from the opposite perspective, it requires enormous effort to break them apart because their internal nuclear bonds contain tremendous energy. Molecular bonds are less strong and contain less energy. Human behavior, at the far end of the spectrum, is extremely fluid and changeable. And yet, human development within a person’s lifetime as well as across generations does advance by the same underlying principles of moving to new Objects by leaping the chasm of Subject to the “simplicity that lies beyond complexity”, which, as an aside, seems to suggest some basis for the idea of punctuated evolution.

This process is rather difficult to detect within an individual human being, even if developmental psychologists have been reliably able to measure their test subjects’ position and sometimes progress along the developmental continuum. But individuals make up society, and individuals alone and together throughout time have contributed to society’s, that is humanity’s, own unfolding process as it passes ever onward through cycles of moving beyond its current Subject to a new Object and then exploring and using that new Object until it too becomes less and less capable of holding at bay the disintegrating forces of entropy, at which point a new Subject must be found so that the cycle can continue.

We are coming to or already at a transition right now, one that will eventually upend everything we have come to believe in the West since the Renaissance, which itself was an example of the previous Subject (God, among other things) moving from outside to inside, Extraverted to Introverted, as the works created as the expression of the subjective basis of individualism and related concepts became the new Object. But now we’re crossing a threshold of diminishing returns on everyone simply becoming “an individual” but progressing no further. That act no longer holds chaos at bay as effectively as it once did, and the solution is to turn inside out, as suggested by McLuhan, to make Object internal and then set out to find the new external Subject.

Fortuitously, this type of massive transition has happened previously in recorded history, albeit far enough in the past that we are left with little more than a very incomplete and low resolution roadmap of how to proceed this time around. Backing up and beginning roughly with the first atlatl, or the first tool that multiplied force in some way instead of merely being harder than a fist or sharper than a fingernail or tooth, there followed an explosion of tools based on the same underlying principle (the same underlying God or Subject). But then eventually the further usefulness of that principle was exhausted, just as the usefulness of the individualist/positivist/rationalist ideas that came to full expression in the Enlightenment are becoming exhausted now. In the earlier case, it took people like Abraham and Plato and all the great thinkers of the Classical Greek period in the West to begin the process of discovering a new Subject, and that subject was sometimes expressed as a single deity, but also as any single external idea against which to measure everything “below” it. It could be a king, the pope, the Soviet state, the corporation, any external, single authority. Or it could be Plato’s ideal forms which can only be expressed in the “real world” as shallow, imperfect imitations.

And so Greek, Roman, and Medieval European philosophers, along with their cultures, are probably a very good place to look for hints as to how to navigate the next several hundred years, so long as one focuses on deep underlying thematic concepts while viewing specific details as nothing more than placeholders. There will also be countless useful examples from other cultures in the same timeframe, with which I am simply far less familiar. I’m not particularly excited about undertaking such a study, and there’s a good chance I won’t even do so, because I have absolutely no need to develop this theory to doctoral-thesis levels of rigor and completeness in order for it to be effective as a personal guiding star in how I go about doing my own creative work.

However, there is a contemporary philosopher who has already written extensively about aspects of what I present here. As part of his theory centered on the “technological sublime”, Mario Costa repeatedly makes the claim that the individual-focused and subjective basis of art since the Renaissance is no longer an effective means of making art in the current and coming era. Instead, he claims, the individual subject of the “artistic personality” will be replaced by a hyper-subject or iper-soggetto, the details of which are either beyond his ability to fully clarify or my ability to understand from his description alone. However, framing his observation in terms of Robert Kegan’s Subject vs Object, Jung’s Feeling vs Thinking, and all of developmental psychology’s notion of stage change, it follows immediately that Costa’s iper-soggetto is nothing more than a renewed focus on Extraverted Feeling paired with Introverted Thinking, on an external Subject paired with internal Object (or epifanìa rittratta in sé) instead of an internal Subject paired with external Object.

By analogy, we’re winding down with the usefulness of our exuberant and fruitful exploration of molecular bonds in all their multitude of combinations, and now it’s time to start thinking about and exploring how to rearrange molecules into higher ordered structures. That is what the ancient Greeks did, along with those who followed them for two thousand years in the West, and that’s what we must begin to do again. Costa mostly writes in terms of art and technology, and then identifies that those things affect humanity, but mostly his emphasis is on the former. So he claims that “artists” in the Renaissance or interior-Subject sense must transform into ricercatori estetici or esthetic researchers, and in fact I believe he is absolutely correct.

Art is unmeasurable, even immeasurable, as opposed to science which is by definition measurable. So art is Subject/Feeling, and science is Object/Thinking. The goal of art is to advance to the point of no longer being art, but instead to become or at least give birth to new science. But art always precedes science, a compelling example of which is linear perspective in Renaissance painting, which was a shot across the bow at the Enlightenment’s scientific process of measuring observable and repeatable phenomena, a process which to this day most westerners consider to be the one true means of learning about and understanding the universe, at least, that is, if they have moved beyond a traditional religious point of view. Concurrently with those scientific developments, art has been primarily a matter of refining interior Subject using Introverted Feeling paired with Extraverted Thinking, with Object on the outside or as the product, exploring all the myriad combinations of objects based on the underlying, unifying concepts derived from an abstract internal God or authority, which for two millennia previously had been expressed as the external monotheistic or authoritarian leader. 

But again, that foundation of an internal authority is becoming less and less effective, and it is time to begin exploring directly and in earnest all of the objects/Objects that have arisen from that traditional mode of enquiry, and in exploring them try to determine what type of super-structure might allow us to coordinate and make sense of them all, which unifying idea is or will be the theme of the next great external Subject, and which will most easily be navigated via Extraverted Feeling (iper-soggetto) paired with Introverted Thinking (aseità). That is exactly the type of work that Plato did in his own time, and as wrong or simply incomplete as his philosophy has been shown since then to be, in his era he was one of a tiny handful of the most advanced thinkers yet to exist, at least among those who left a record. Art produced without relying on the heretofore taken for granted “artistic personality” as derived from an internal Subject, together with a far more complex extension of “Plato-like” philosophy, is what humanity now needs going forward, and as far as I can tell, an attempt to do such work is exactly what Costa means by esthetic research, though I am decidedly less certain as to whether he would in any way agree with my interpretation of this subject matter.

To the best of my ability to understand, and in fact given his discovery of this phenomenon over thirty years ago this makes a great deal of sense to me, Costa seems to focus primarily on the transition of Object from external to internal, along with the attendant weakening, exhaustion, or debolimento of its previous interior Subject, while the consequent establishment or discovery of a new external Subject is left as something of an exercise for the reader to work out for themself. I personally, on the other hand, am far more fascinated with and motivated by the latter part, the attempt to discover some new external Subject, though I do specifically mean the attempt itself without any real hope of a full and conclusive discovery, which I suspect is beyond my own means or possibly even the means of humanity at this time, just as ancient Greek thought needed to be elaborated and explored for some two thousand years. And yet as I’ve written before, to be present at the beginning of this new chapter in human history is an amazing and wondrous opportunity.

The General Model of Hierarchical Complexity (GMHC) as elaborated by Michael Lamport Commons and his associates has been an extremely useful conceptual tool for me in how I organize my thoughts around the phenomena I have been trying to understand and sometimes write about for several years now. What I failed to realize for some time is that the GMHC, along with its corresponding theory of stage change, focuses primarily on one half of the equation. Definitely it focuses on the half of the equation which is most salient for me personally, but through its being incomplete (as must any- and everything be), I was previously unable to see its full applicability, the other half of which I could also not previously see as being provided to some extent by Costa. 

Commons et al describe the first step of stage transition as requiring a rejection of the previous stable view of the world. He does mention something along the lines of that rejection coming about as the eventual result of the loss of reinforcement felt after repeatedly undertaking the actions that were representative of the previous stage or world view, but I have found very little further clarification on his part or on the part of those who have worked alongside him. In their dialectic of stage change the new starting point, the negation, is effectively the same as the old ending point, when in fact there is an intense, lengthy, and productive period of exploration and elaboration that happens in between. It is not wrong, necessarily, that in the vertical direction there might be little to distinguish the previous hierarchical endpoint from the next starting point, but it downplays the expansion in the horizontal direction, much like those who, believing that the horizontal elaboration since the Renaissance represents the one true view of the world, might belittle the largely vertical development that occurred from Ancient Greece until the Renaissance. Both orientations are necessary, though at any given time or throughout any given era, one or the other might be more fruitful to explore, and by fruitful I mean capable of or necessary for holding off the decaying effects of entropy or, more realistically, whatever is the underlying phenomenon that we refer to as entropy.

Costa, on the other hand, primarily focuses on trying to explain the very diminishment of the reinforcement of previous-stage (or previous era) actions, even if he largely limits his references to the dominant Western worldview that began with the Renaissance. However, putting together the two lines of research greatly helps in making sense of the larger phenomenon, which, again, at this point in human history has to do with beginning the search for the next external Subject.

In explaining his Esthetics of Communication, with many references to the work of artists Fred Forest and Maurizio Bolognini, Costa often repeats his assertion, rarely understood by others, myself included, that in estheticizing communication, the content of that communication is empty and has nothing to communicate. Bolognini has demonstrated this idea in works in which computers are networked together and communicate with each other, but have no monitors or displays of any type such that the effects or results of that communication are never visible to the human spectator. However, I believe this line of reasoning only works if “having something to communicate” is forced to mean only that which arises out of an internal Subject, because the very communication which Costa asserts “has nothing to communicate” is, in fact, Subject, but again, external. To be sure, it does not give rise to any kind of Object in the traditional sense, but instead coordinates or attempts to coordinate already-existing objects by searching out their boundaries and also or eventually, I believe, their similarities, or at least some means of meshing them together, again, in order to create higher-order structures. That being the case, it has a great deal indeed to communicate. The last great example of such an iper-soggetto in the West was the Judeo-Christian God, though not every external Subject need be so grand, and as well the next great one will almost assuredly look nothing like God in any discernible way.

It’s really a matter of perspective. In arguing the exhaustion of the usefulness of Renaissance through Modern ways of being in and seeing the world, Costa appears to make the mistake of taking that seven hundred year old mentality as a given, as being how things naturally are, when in fact it is only one way of how things can be, a way that was appropriate for its era, and no longer is. But we don’t need to invent an entirely new way of being in order to manage and move beyond that exhaustion. No disumanizzazzione on the one hand or transition to some kind of ultra-umano on the other is necessary. We simply need to return, albeit in far greater complexity and with far more knowledge behind us, to the underlying thematic (but not specific) way of being in and seeing the world that was introduced by the Greeks and explored in the West until the Renaissance, and which we see partially explained in more modern terms by the GMHC’s dialectic of stage change, which focuses on vertical elaboration instead of horizontal.

This vertical elaboration involves a reexamination of existing objects/Objects, which are taken as a starting point instead of an ending point or product, followed by a dissolution or breaking apart of their internal connections and boundaries (internal Subjects) in order to reconfigure them into a coherent greater whole (external Subject). Commons’ dialectic of stage change describes a fractal-like re-elaboration of all the vertical layers of mental connections that we have built up throughout our lives, with a negation or rupture of each connection in the hierarchy preceding its reconfiguration. John Boyd described a not-dissimilar process with his example of how to build a snowmobile. In my own work, both in writing words and in writing software, I find myself constantly attempting, sometimes with success, to break old connections and make new wholes out of the pieces, always ending up with something thematically similar at the end, and yet having a different, sometimes wildly different, feel to it.

Always for me it seems to be a matter of trying to be, to write words, or to write code such that the result of each attempt or experiment is logically compatible with some distant, diffuse, and felt but not known target or idea. It is a frustrating and laborious process, and in terms of my software work it has yet to prove in any way fruitful. Psychologically and in terms of my fiction writing (fragmented though it be), on the other hand, I have found this process to be immensely productive. The theories and ideas I present here only came about as a result of having done that work. Beforehand, despite years of fascination with Jungian typology and its descendants, with developmental psychology, and with the work of Mario Costa among others, I simply had no means whatsoever of being able to see the worlds they described as anything but entirely disjoint and unrelated. And yet now it seems entirely obvious, even if only to me, and even if this too is just one more incomplete theory in a lengthy history of incomplete human theories. But that’s how it works! Everything is simultaneously complete and incomplete, or in the process of becoming so, and that, my friends, is not only amazing, it is life itself.