A Secret History of Consciousness

A Secret History of Consciousness

By Gary Lachman
Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books. Paperback, xxxv + 314 pages.

Gary Lachman, whom many readers of The Quest will recognize as a contributor to this magazine, is at once a highly successful popular musician, a much published writer, and a serious student of psychology and philosophy. It is in the last capacity that he has produced this ambitious and wide-ranging work. A Secret History of Consciousness is both a history of consciousness and a history of ideas about the history of consciousness.

The history of consciousness takes us back to the Paleolithic emergence of a distinctive human mode of awareness. The history of the history of consciousness presented here offers an admirable mix of philosophers usually considered mainstream, including Kant, Hegel, James, and Bergson, together with others, such as Steiner, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Blavatsky, often put into a special "esoteric'' category. Lachman's way of enabling representative's of the two sets to dialogue with each other is one of the great strengths of this work; we do not understand consciousness so well that we can afford to neglect any significant perspective on it.

Theosophists will be particularly happy to see that this study is highly appreciative of Helena Blavatsky's importance in that conversation, presenting her work as the first major post-Darwinian response to nineteenth-century scientific materialism. Her picture, often mythopoeic, of convergent physical and spiritual or "consciousness" evolution, showed how the sterile impasse of religious and scientific dogmatism could be transcended through reference to an ancient wisdom in which mind and matter coexist and evolve together.

It is jean Gebser (1905-1973), however, who is the culminating figure in this book and clearly the scholar with whom Lachman feels the deepest affinity. In Gebser's view of the history of consciousness, archaic magical and mythical ways of thinking "mutated" into a "mental-rational" structure and finally are reaching an "integral" stage. We are now transiting into integralism, in which all previous modes of consciousness will be brought together more perfectly than before. Amid the tension of change, however, there is always the danger of “atavistic" relapse into modes of consciousness whose time is past, which is what Gebser saw happen around him as perverted forms of magic and myth returned in Europe in the form of fascism and other antirational ideologies. In passing, it may be noted that Gebser was highly regarded by Theosophical intellectuals such as Fritz Kunz well before he became the widely recognized thinker he now is.

Secret History of Consciousness is highly recommended to all serious readers of philosophy and intellectual history.


March/April 2004