Integration of Knowledge

Integration here refers to the encounter between temporal and atemporal concerns.1 This might express itself in the dialog between science and religion. Or, it might more intimately emote about the polar apposition between disciplines of the studio artist and academic critical theory in search of a third element of reconciliation. So far, there is no such third element in the scientific method. In order for such to develop both the scientific methods of critical theory and traditional religion need to be reconsidered. I am reminded of some speculations about the devastating levels of self-destruction one finds on many Native American reservations in the United States. While living on more than one reservation in the Southwest, it was suggested to me that the continuing tragedy there was not only due to economic or political defeat. No doubt, a latent cause also was the psychic violence in an ongoing clash about how a people order their perception of the world. The conflict between a mystical, mythical, or highly symbolic worldview, against capitalist and technocratic (military) pragmatism is so harsh in most people that many do not survive the clash. One is forced in most cases to choose between the dominance of commercial, technical values, against the spiritual life. Making an enormous leap of assumptions over how the shift happens after that choice is made, for the sake of this introduction, let me observe that merely social and moral values have come to dominate religious critique, also against a more mystical or spiritual mindset. Though often admirable, such a constrained attitude seems just as awkwardly superficial, as does most modern religion, trying to operate in an environment dominated by technology and capitalism.

Neither has science in the guise of Positivism been very helpful in this regard. Scientific cosmology treats the machine, but not the mechanic; neither in speculative forms concerning an Origin, nor in the perceptive vales of the one observing the mechanics of the universe.

It was the Benedictine, monastic motherhouse of ‘Cluny’ that was torn down right after the Bastille in the horrors of the French Revolution. Benedictine monasticism maintains eons of spiritual insight to this day, at least symbolically, and was itself the symbol of not just religious structure and Christianity in Europe, but a mystical worldview, as well as economic and political organization. The Nova Sciencia in league with commercial and political interests had become the new expression of hope for Western Civilization, and increasingly the world from the 16th Century. Many are still positively hopeful about that aspiration. Others suspect that Science, though of great value, has not solved the human dilemma–suffering and death. But instead it provides the careers, funding and weapons sufficient to amplify suffering with larger and larger human populations, and larger and larger problems. That being said, true or not, these influential suspicions of the past have not been sufficient to motivate this Nepsis project. Its most powerful motivation is more positive, though addressing such problems is part of the arena of Nepsis concerns.

Nepsis identifies, then uses the practice and techniques of four traditional vehicles of initiation and integration to explore and perhaps (re)form–at least in oneself!–attitudes about the operation of human identity in culture and nature to date. This is a daunting task in any case, but worthy to attempt and perhaps necessary considering the conclusions of this project. These four vehicles are: 1. The Art Making process–prose, poetry, painting. 2. Religious Techniques: yoga, monastic practice, finely tuned systems of such practice, Theology and Religious Studies. 3. Ontonomy2 –systems of perception, the study of the Ordering of Being, i.e., worldviews. 4. Critical Theory. This is not a rant against science, or even capitalism, per se. Rather this exploration proposes that any rational person can understand that science must include as important issues, categories that are outside the ability of the scientific method to test, or the human mind to conceptualize. Its own gestalt function, for instance. Otherwise, the human mind is the limitless deity and requires a different consideration by science. Then, science is religion–a rational impossibility.

Below, the reader will find more about the content as well as the organization of NEPSIS. Also, included below are selections from the ‘Response’ to the method and content of NEPSIS from one of the 20th Century’s great intellectuals, Raimon Panikkar. But for the topics of the ‘Integration of Knowledge’ and ‘Satifaction’ to be found in NEPSIS, I recommend the following: Section III of the NEPSIS Table of Contents. The materials found in Section III recount and conclude, in an abstract sense, the explorations of Section I and II, as well as the Master list of Paintings, the Poems and other categories found in the NEPSIS Sitemap. Familiarity with the materials that give rise to the references in Section III is necessary for a fuller appreciation, but even a more casual perusal of Section III might be enjoyable and informative for a viewer, if a bit mystifying. Issues of “Satisfaction” can be explored through the Second and Third “Interstate Reflection” essays in Section II of the NEPSIS Table of Contents.

Methods of verification must fit the subject. Thus, Nepsis methodology has developed to explore core categories of human knowing: History and Myth. Science and Religion. Time and Eternity. As developed elsewhere in this Index, I believe art–High Art–is a function of religion, a search for truth or beauty, or the ‘really real.’ The Sanskrit root of ‘art’ is Ars and refers to ‘a bridge between worlds,’ i.e., the worlds of matter and spirit. Here my art is also used to reveal, test and develop the processes of my own perceptive filters. Quid quid recipitur, recipitur secunoun modum recipientis. Thus, I hope to come to some deeper understanding of what satisfies human potential.

Perhaps through the inspiration of the muse3 that ‘owns’ this Nepsis project, I had the advantage of excellent teacher/guides.* It was tolerated, even encouraged by some of the best minds at the University of California as well as several Catholic and Buddhist monasteries in the U.S. and India–especially at that peculiar combination of university and monastery: a Roman Catholic Seminary. I started this project just after college when I felt, perhaps blithely, I had a contribution to make because I could make good paintings and poems.

THE CAVE: Once, in one of those monasteries mentioned above, during a walk with the leader of the monastery, the topic of ‘the cave’ was being discussed. That is, the life of the hermit, its purpose and justification. Withdrawal. Non-judgment. Witness to the Holy. The inner life pursued in its simplest and most intense format found in both Christianity and Buddhism with its roots deep in the Stone Age and its touch still energizing the Modern Age: States of consciousness, states of awareness examined; the examination of self until self is transcended. Nothing in my secular life prepared me for exposure to this. I was fascinated, charmed, enthralled by the topic. Though completely nebulous at the time, these and all related topics intrigued me and somehow seemed to fulfill and extend my humanity just by the questions evoked. I asked the leader of that group of monks, what was supposed to happen in the ‘cave.’ He, Fr. Bruno, formerly a chemical engineer, years before he entered religious life, replied in a challenging, somewhat acerbic tone, “try it and find out.”

There are many means of access to the ‘inner world’ of the psyche or the Spirit in addition to complete withdrawal idealized in the hermitage. The life of a monk or hermit, it seems, is a highly specialized and rare vocation–even in monasteries. So, I determined that I would make it my life’s project to ‘find out’ one way or another. I have pursued the topic of this encounter between worlds as a form of spiritual initiation.

By using the ‘search for the real’* of the studio artist, combined with an exploration of yogic or ascetical methods and the critical discernment of academic disciplines, this research clarifies salient points in the construct of culture. Captions for the Nepsis paintings turn out to be an important element in this over all collection of stories, visual art, poetry and critical essays, since here the latent, but inextricable relationship between these expressive parts is drawn most simply. In good Abstract Expressionist fashion, the captions and titles for the artworks of NEPSIS (can) indicate the locale or complex of themes and interests that are the aesthetic environment in which these works operate. To a great degree, it is in the progress of these paintings that the artist works out the theologies and philosophies of his concern. By using artistic processes in addition to discursive thought, a method develops for expressing and catalyzing a broader and deeper experience of being. These captions and titles become directional signs for artifacts of a broader excavation.

Iconic and mandalic configurations of reality are also investigated and are highly influential to these processes. (* Also, see “Satisfaction” essays in Section II of NEPSIS Table of Contents.)

A series of novels and short fiction in Nepsis explore these topics, as they express and influence ultimate conclusions. This series reaches its most integrated, abstract statement in its culminating ‘novel’, HOW DIONYSIUS SAVED HIS MOTHER FROM HELL. (In Book III of this work, imaginary, actual, paranormal, ordinary, political and scientific issues converge to present an animated, liturgical image of reality. Some of the characters here are ‘real’ characters ‘unheard’ in NEPSIS before this. They stand here with imaginary characters and scenes from NEPSIS Section II fiction, poems and other fragments from this collection so as to draw together ‘internal’ with ‘external’ processes of perception. Thus, knowledge is integrated, history is transformed and the world is saved–in certain worldviews! In the figure of the Christ, the union of worlds–the integration of knowledge–is accomplished by the fulfillment of personality, its fullness is accomplished by the fulfillment of a person in ‘other’, the ‘Holy’–a beauteous attitude indeed, but radical humanism rankles in the loins of the muse.)

As well, in other such works, attitudes about nature and our part in it are explored. For instance, “Memo to a Bishop” in Section III states: “To deny the sacred nature of the world, is like denying the humanity of slaves, a common tactic that makes exploitation possible.” Such attitudes and the nexus of values that produces such attitudes, and that to which they react, are explored. This process distills elements necessary to discern qualities such as human ‘satisfaction’ in the interactive web of nature and culture. Tantric Buddhism turned a war-like, aggressive, tribal people into a peaceful nation in Tibet, well along a path to enlightenment. Less isolated and protected, Christianity also created or altered whole civilizations. (What complex of wisdom, what web of interrelated values will be necessary to save, redeem, and/or enlighten the new, technological age that portends darkly, as some would say, upon our future.)

Finally, it is the spinning of the web, that tendency of human beings and cultures to compose ontonomic systems, that is examined, experienced, expressed in the overall construction of this internet site, as well as in the construct of its various contents. The very fact that the expression of such integration is attempted in a contemporary technological organ of electronic ‘mixed media’ is itself a commentary upon our topic, as is discussed in the last pages of “Memo to a Bishop.”

Raimon Panikkar, one of the great minds of the Twentith Century, whose expertise in the History of Religion and the Philosophy of Science was awarded the Gifford Lectures in 1989–among many such major awards–comments as follows about Nepsis methodology and themes in his “Response” to Nepsis:

…And here is where I ask myself whether we should not enlarge our habitual categories in order to do justice to his [Frost’s] overall intuition. I see it as a challenge. The eye of the beholder is part and parcel of a work of art, and empathy is a hermeneutical key–although not the only one. Mendeleev’s periodic table was rejected by the British Academy; one of Einstein’s first papers was once ‘failed’…

…My standpoint is not whether I agree or disagree with some of the ideas exposed in the Dissertation, but whether I judge the Candidate capable of putting forward an important point of contemporary research, and in this sense I consider it a pioneer’s work…”

…The Dissertation is unusual both in its contents and in its style. I have followed its progress, evolution (‘involution’ as well)… “We” have not succeeded in bringing the Candidate fully into “our” parameters, hard and gently as “we” tried. I consider this fact, seen from the other side, as academic initiation. He has accommodated as much as he could, and yet he has not yielded the main thrust of this work. I consider this as a victory for both him and Academia– specially for him. Then, in recent times Academia has opened up to such more personal and artistic approaches, even on the field of philosophy. The least academic attitude is to dictate once and for all what “academic’ means. And yet, there are some criteria we should maintain: coherence, seriousness, accuracy, honesty, and any dissertation should be an original contribution to the field of knowledge. I feel that Frost’s investigation meets those criteria.

The work is serious. Steve has painstakingly taken the pulse of our modern times and has tried to mediate between the rational and the irrational, the theoretical and the artistic. And this he has done from a perspective that stands middle way between the two… R.P. 1995.

The contents of NEPSIS are combined in a manner so as to evoke a vision: Here we have tried to uncover essential elements of perception and with these to construe a sample worldview. Herein, “Captions” and the “Foreword” combined with “Definitions and Terms of Special Usage”, to be found on the NEPSIS Sitemap, provide entrance to the major themes drawn together in NEPSIS. It is this intuitive web of interrelationships among major venues of human perception that suggests a more fully inclusive and integrated approach. Original paintings and poetry provide essential counterpoint to discursive critique for a more complete consideration of experience–of the “fury of being” and its stillness. The Priest’s Confession, Eagle Rock, and “Memo to a Bishop” are all conclusive works found in Section III of the NEPSIS TABLE OF CONTENTS. In Section II, an earlier work, LETTER TO A BISHOP combines paintings and narratives about ordinary and paranormal experiences along a pilgrim path that reveals an important influence. LETTER TO A BISHOP, because it is long, and the Ph.D. dissertation, INTERSTATES, because it is a dissertation, are for the more determined reader. I wrote the works of fiction in NEPSIS, Section II, as popular fiction to present these themes from a more approachable slant as well as to explore these areas from a different perspective. But in the process, the fiction ‘got control’ and became something for mature, experienced readers. Each of these books is followed by a theoretical reflection. There are a number of introductions and previews that might be helpful to read early. This is true of the Introduction for LETTER TO A BISHOP as well as the “Preview to Part III” of the same work. The Introduction to the Ph.D. provides critical background for this approach, as do the INTERSTATE REFLECTIONS in Section II which advance and reorganize the dissertation themes. The whole matrix might seem to contain more than what’s necessary to treat these topics. But what’s necessary varies with different themes as they emerge. It is finally the harmonics of the whole composition that comments best upon the nature of perception, consciousness, awareness, and the integration of knowledge.

The primal format one finds in study of shamanism usually divides the subject into two parts: Initiation and Practice. I believe that format still provides the best organization for the topics of interest here. In fact, most of the material here could fall under the heading of ‘initiation.’ There are also depicted here the beginnings of a ‘practice’ that at once describes actual events as well as creating a liturgical metaphor for the wide spectrum of human activity, history and identity.

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  1. Hoffman, Hans. Search for the Real. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1967. This is an excellent explanation of some of the underlying tenets of Abstract Expressionism. See dissertation bibliography for other works discussing Abstract Expressionism. []
  2. Ontonomy is the study of the order of being. Or, it is the study of systems of perception that give order to being for the perceiver, i.e. philosophies, religions, worldviews. []
  3. Questions about the ‘muse’ or inspiration are important here. Are these influential emotions felt as inspiration from some other-worldly influence? Or, are they rather projections from the human psyche… compensations for the imbalances typical of life? This is treated more fully in the Art and Religion segment of this Index. Gods or Goddesses here indicate an anthropomorphized sensibility about the participation of every moment, power and place in the divine condition. In the context of this study, ‘gods’ refer to archetypal figures that actively engage a fuller spectrum of perception. For the “Dionysius” reference, see Halpern, Paul. The Cyclical Serpent, Plenum Press, New York, 1995. Also see, Williams, W. L. The Spirit and the Flesh. Beacon Press, Boston, 1986. For Shamanistic initiation, see “Introduction” in Shamanism, Eliade, M. []