Re-reading humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, I find much to like: his re-imagining of well-being in terms of individual and collective “self-actualization,” fulfillment occurring in and through a eupsychian network of co-evolving communities, including communes and growth centers like Esalen. But there are also some terrifying, instrumentalist defenses of “Science,” as when, in the preface to the first edition of Toward a Psychology of Being, he writes, “Science is the only way we have of shoving truth down the reluctant throat. Only science can overcome characterological differences in seeing and believing. Only science can progress” (viii). There’s a lot of genuflecting before terms like “empirical” and “raw facts.” Yet there remains a saving desire for integrated knowledge, knowledge that admits humanity’s creaturely actuality, as well as its god-like potential. Maslow characterizes this latter, “vertical” facet of human personality as a future dynamically active in the present, an absent cause prompting our becoming in a serendipitous manner, as if unplanned. We and the reality around us change subtly day by day.
Out comes Oneida’s Anthem of the Moon, released again into consciousness by the appearance of the band’s logo on an old t-shirt I pull from my dresser and refold while trying to de-clutter my house using the “KonMari Method.” The moon appears again later in the day in the lyrics to a Silver Apples song called “I Have Known Love.” The song is sad and tragic, as if sung by a psychedelic fallen angel, an Icarus or a Prometheus, chastened, having burned his fingers on the sun.
After some initial disturbance and distress, observation allows us to welcome a symphony of science and nature, the buzz of subatomic particles entangled with the strings of the Orphic lyre. Birds sail through blue skies as I sit midday after attending a panel featuring poets Anne Waldman, Rae Armantrout, Andrew Joron, Will Alexander, and Amy Catanzano. But wow — so much construction! And amid the allegory, the distant rumblings of mathematics. The deep basso profundo “Om” of the cybernetic Buddha. The American downtown beeps and buzzes, life landscaped and policed for redevelopment. Above it float clouds shaped like turtles, pigs, patient observers. Looped samples instrumentalize me, transform me through the labor of the beat into a receiver of new information, identity no longer fixed upon an avatar but rather dispersed across a domain beyond the barricade of the graphical user interface.
Time to delve into Cosmos as a first-time viewer, even if the series is some sort of anamnesis, some remembering of the one by the one. Who is this charioteer who captains our journey? We are all space brothers and sisters, soulful star people cruising around in outer space — can you get with that? The voice of Reason beams via television satellite into the Library of Alexandria, and just like that, we begin to communicate across time, in many languages, awakening into freedom. From Alexandria, the General Intellect pulses consciousness out into space. Time to do something, we say to ourselves, with our knowledge of the cosmos. As Sagan’s series shifts into a second episode on evolution of life through natural selection, however, it begins to sound grossly eugenicist. I hear June Tyson singing in reply, “It’s after the end of the world. / Don’t you know that yet?” I keep wondering to myself, “Where is phenomenological reality? When and where is consciousness? Who is the ‘you’ hailed by Sagan’s speech?” By the show’s astrology-debunking third episode, I’m nodding off, in search of better dreams. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Sagan’s philosophy.