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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

An Ouroboric Perspective and The Limitations Of Linearity

Linear time and linear perspective have dominated the modern world until the turn of the Twentieth Century, when we started looking at things a bit differently. During the infancy of film, Méliès’s (1902/2002) Trip To The Moon (Voyage Dans La Lune), provided two views of the same event, the lunar landing: one from the moon’s point of view, and the other of the space travelers. This was something that had never been done before (Berry, 2003, cassette). The turn of the Twentieth Century also saw the beginnings of quantum theory and non-linear dynamics, depth psychology, a renewed view of myths, and Boas’s cultural relativism, all of which were saying, “We need a new perspective. Lets face it, linear perspective with its single vision is just too limiting, and linear time, is not the only game in town.

Depth psychology and Nietzsche chime in saying “Hey, history, you don’t have the whole story; on one level it might look like this, but look more deeply and you will see that more is going on s Shakespeare's Hamlet reminds us ‘than is dreamt of in your philosophy’ (OSS, 2003, Hamlet, I, 5, online).” Since we have been going around in circles for some time now, might I propose something less linear and a bit more circular, as Avens (1980) suggests “metaphorical and ouroboric” perhaps (p. 77).

The Ouroboros (a snake biting its own tail) was the symbol that I unconsciously chose for a class t-shirt I created in the spring of 2001, and which is used as the graphic for the “Prelude—Cosmic Setup” on this website. I was inspired by a picture in Self Aware Universe, of an ouroboros from and ancient codex that Goswami (1993) used in his discussion of the tangled hierarchy.

The slogan on the shirt reads: “We put the fun in dysfunctional!” The ouroboros was modeled after a childhood favorite cartoon character—Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent, from 1960s the Beanie and Cecil (Clampett, 1999) television series. Although I did not realize at the time that the ouroborus is an alchemical symbol for transformation, referring “not only to the mundane calendar year, but esoterically to life, death and rebirth as well” (Burt, 1997, p. 275). The ouroboros is also a symbol for eternity, and Jung (1988), in expanding on the eternal return from a passage from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, explicates: “all truth is crooked, the snake’s way is the right way, every straight way lieth, time itself is a circle, the idea of the eternal return” (p. 1271). So indeed, lets take the snake’s way.

Avens (1980), in Imagination is Reality, discusses the connection between Eastern thought and Western Romanticism in the works of Coleridge, Goethe, and Blake, giving some clues about the creative imagination that express what this ouroboric perspective might entail. Coleridge saw the creative imagination as “being the ‘threshold’ between self and not self, between mind and matter, between conscious and unconscious. As Coleridge saw it, the task of genius is to apprehend ‘unity in multeity’ of the objective world” (Avens, p. 20), was a way of discovering deeper truth about the world, which “dissolves, diffuses in order to recreate and to unify” (p. 18).

Avens (1980) notes that Goethe, in writing about his poetry notes:

“every character, however peculiar it may be, and every representation, from stone all the way up to the scale of man, has certain universality; for everything repeats itself, and there is nothing in the world that has happened only once . . . ." In Goethe’s view, everything in nature exists in a state of radical penetration . . . but variously reveal the perduring archetypes (urphänomen) which they express and symbolize” (pp. 18-19).

Blake, Avens (1980) remarks, gives us the important notion of “a double vision" that has the ability to perceive things in at least two different ways simultaneously. Blake's famous line “save us from single vision and Newton’s sleep,” is probably a reflection of the importance of having such double vision.

Romanyshyn (1989) in Technology as Symptom and Dream writes about perspective and discusses the consequences linear perspective has had on the world. Romanyshyn explains that linear perspective walls us off behind a window where we lose our senses and connection with the world itself, giving us a very unreal perspective as a result, which has led to the dissociated condition in which we find ourselves. Romanyshyn (2001) elsewhere speaks about Newton’s discoveries in optics, which resulted in the magic leaving the rainbow, when it became scientifically reduced to just "the spectrum."

McLuhan shows that print media’s linearity has kept us more single- minded as well. Bordo (1987) shows how the Cartesian/Newtonian mindset has caused a flight to objectivity. Bordo discusses the fiction of the single point of view in linear perspective and the lengths to which the original artists who employed linear perspective would go, so they could get things in their proper place. She points out that although perspective comes from the Latin, perspicare, meaning "to see clearly," when we adopt linear perspective culturally, it becomes problematic, and actually clouds our vision.

So, an ouroboric perspective it is, which we have just seen is nothing new. Indeed, you might be familiar with this perspective under another name: depth psychology! (Lévi-Strauss’s mythical thinking or bricolage also comes to mind!) This is what Nietzsche was after with his idea of the eternal return. Speaking of which, let us now look at the eternal return, and then Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence, and then go on to see the eternal return eternally returning throughout depth psychology. The eternal return does not stop there, however, in our journey through the Crash Course on Chaos section, and the Grof's Psychology of The Future, we will see elements of the eternal return eternally recurring, too.


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