Epistemic Companions: Art and the Sacred

Epistemic Companions: Art and the Sacred

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Mircea Eliade, the great historian and philosopher of religions, did not consider the present ‘desacralization’ of modern life as the desirable ending of a necessary progress. “The ‘sacred’ is an element in the structure of consciousness and not a stage in the history of consciousness” (Eliade 1978: xiii). In his view, it is rather the present situation which would be a transitional stage, toward new forms of the religious; forms yet unknown, which could even emerge from the profane, desacralized situation at which we have arrived. “To be—or, rather, to become—a man signifies being ‘religious’,” (ibid.) he said often, thus refusing the possibility that man could live definitely separated from any religious system.

A purely rational man is an abstraction; he is never found in real life. Every human being is made up at once of his conscious activity and his irrational experiences. (Eliade 1959: 209)

However, the religious, in Eliade’s mind, is not a matter of belief. Beyond “ideas of God and religion” (1959: 8), “divine figures” or “belief in God, in gods or in spirits,” what interest him are “the modalities of the religious experience” (ibid.), the pattern of the sacred, might we say, which is universal and regards “the notions of being, of meaning, and of truth” (1978: xiii). “The experience of the sacred is essentially an experience of consciousness,” it is “the experience of a reality and the source of our awareness of being in the world”:

When one thinks of the sacred, one should not limit it to divine figures only. The sacred does not imply belief in God, in gods or in spirits. It is, I say it again, the experience of a reality and the source of our awareness of being in the world. What is this consciousness that makes us human? It is the result of that experience of the sacred, of that partition which occurs between the real and the unreal. (Eliade)1

Since the sacred is an inherent element in human consciousness, it cannot have disappeared; and so Eliade hoped that someone would endeavour to “decipher the camouflage of the sacred in the desacralized world” (Eliade).2 One profane site where the sacred is hidden is certainly art, companion of the sacred since the earliest humanity, itself primarily concerned with Being and meaning. If, as Eliade says, the sacred is related to the “meaning of life” and if it is the form of consciousness that allows us to apprehend this meaning, then obviously art proceeds from that same consciousness. When Eliade uncovers the structure of the sacred underlying the history of religions and describes the religious “mode of being” (1978, 1959), the artist recognizes a fitting description of the underlying structure of art, and of the mode of being related to aesthetic experience. Art and the sacred share a similar structure and similar modi operandi; and they are together involved in establishing meaning in the world, i.e. seeing and “making visible” (Klee).3 underlying and unifying connections in the world—that which makes the world a “Cosmos” (Eliade 1959: 169). Eliade believes that without that sense of being in a meaningful world, it might be impossible to imagine human consciousness. Therefore, we may also find that art and the sacred have cognate functions in the development of consciousness.

(I)t is impossible to imagine how consciousness could appear without conferring a meaning on man’s impulses and experiences. Consciousness of a real and meaningful world is intimately connected with the discovery of the sacred. Through experience of the sacred, the human mind has perceived the difference between what reveals itself as being real, powerful, rich, and meaningful and what lacks these qualities, that is, the chaotic and dangerous flux of things, their fortuitous and senseless appearances and disappearances.(Eliade 1978: xiii)

“Epistemic Companions” highlights an essential link between the sacred, art and consciousness. Its argument is grounded in Mircea Eliade’s work, and it owes much to Gregory Bateson’s latest insights concerning the sacred nature of the world’s wholeness (Bateson & Bateson; Bateson 1996). I will make a series of remarks informed by the theory of the transdisciplinary movement,4 in an attempt to insert art as a full-fledged participant in the Science and Religion dialogue on the unity of knowledge.

The Artistic “Revelation”
For me, a lifetime of creative work has brought up the question of “artistic thinking,” i.e. art’s unique way of thinking and knowing. Informed by transdisciplinary studies and conversations, I have often posed the question in these terms: what does one know through art? Is there something, unknown through science or rational inquiry that can be known only through art? What does art contribute to knowledge, alongside other modes of knowing such as philosophy, psychology, theology, anthropology, or the natural sciences?

We are used to thinking of art as a form of expression, more than a way of knowing. Yet if artists do, indeed, express what they know about the world and about themselves in their work, it is most often the work—through the experience and the process of its making—that informs the artist about what it says. Many artists will agree that artistic creation is not so much a work of expression as a work of revelation. “What I do tells me what I am looking for,” says Soulages:5 meaning is revealed in the work, which the artist has indeed worked to “ex-press”—but not in the sense of “self-expression,” rather in the sense of “pressing out,” of “making appear” or “making emerge” from matter. The successful artwork surprises the artist, who is often the first to be taken by its meaning.

But how is this possible? How can the artwork make visible (audible or perceptible) meanings or layers that its author does not necessarily see prior to making the work? And if what is made visible belongs to the world and to what connects the artist to it, what does this say about the world? What is this world that makes itself known through art?6 Obviously, something of the world is revealed through creative practice and aesthetic contemplation. Paul Klee states, “Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible.”7 Art makes visible different dimensions or a revelation different from what science and philosophy, for instance, allow us to know.

I. Widening the Definition of Knowledge

Art in the Definition of Knowledge
To ask what is known through art requires a wider, more general definition of knowledge; one in which art would be an epistemology as essential and effective as science and advanced forms of philosophy. Yet in order to integrate art among the other fields of knowledge, we need to assume that knowledge could be at once scientific and non-scientific, sure and uncertain, objective and subjective. We must agree that only part of the truth can be observed or apprehended through reason and reflection: part is felt, part is imagined, part is revealed. Yet another part is indescribable: apophatic, “negative,” and irreducible, it comes through mystical experience or encounter with the sublime, or more ordinarily, from the intimate experience of the self.

So already, the very concept of knowledge is problematic. “To know” does not mean the same thing for the scientist as for the artist or the mystic. The former primarily knows through observing and describing; the latter, taking the Latin root “con nascere” (to be born with) in its literal sense, know through participation. Are these two ways of knowing reconcilable? They have to be, says Gregory Bateson. We need a “meta-science,” a larger knowledge (Bateson 1996: 16). We need to “practice more than one mode of thought and observation” (Bateson & Bateson: 184). The notion that one might attempt to know the world through only one mode of thought, subsume it under one epistemology only, as scientific as it is, is a faulty proposition. We ought to integrate within our very concept of knowledge those irrational dimensions, the intuitive, the “felt” and the “psychological,” which inform our inner life. Knowledge cannot be understood only as mere contents or information; as purely positive contents that is, transmittable, exchangeable and additive, with which one makes encyclopaedias.

“Positive” knowledge alone is not enough in science anyway. To give only these few examples, General Relativity, Quantum Physics, and at both ends of psychology, the Unconscious and the Transpersonal: these have established uncertainty and undecidability at the limits of scientific knowledge. These new concepts and theories certainly pushed back the horizon of what and how scientists know, but at the same time they set an impossibility of going further, some kind of ontological limit to where knowledge—in that sense, at least—could hope to reach. This is the context in which scientists turn to interrogating art, poetry, and the sacred. After all, this undecidable is yet an important part of our experience of being human, in many ways more important even, in view of the existential questions it makes us ask ourselves, and the ways in which it influences—if not control—our reactions, behaviour, emotions, our conceptions of our self and of the world. Our inner life is entirely steeped in this undecidable. And without always realizing it, we act according to it just as much as we act according to the good and the true. Yet it remains imponderable, and often buried in the unconscious. Does that mean it is unknowable? Of course, the answer to this depends on how one defines knowledge.

Levels of Reality
As a counterpart to disciplinary fragmentation, which minces the sphere of knowledge into ever-smaller regions, the transdisciplinary movement wants to think of the totality of knowledge. The theoretical structure of transdisciplinarity rests on three axioms,8 the first of which will interest us here: “There are, in Nature and in our knowledge of Nature, different levels of Reality and, correspondingly, different levels of perception.” The conceptualization of levels of reality is fundamental to the exercising of transdisciplinary thinking, and necessary, in my opinion, for us to envisage art as an effective epistemology, complementing the others.

The levels of reality coincide, more or less, with the traditional fields of knowledge, from classical physics to chemistry, biology, neurosciences, etc., to philosophy and religion. The concept already appeared essential to Werner Heisenberg, who used it to elucidate some aspects of the difference between classical and quantum physics.9 Heisenberg himself was inspired by the notion of “regions of reality” borrowed from Goethe. The term “level” seems more appropriate, however, than “region,” which may even mislead us, for we are really speaking of stacked layers, or more precisely levels embedded in one another. The new reality of a higher level integrates the reality of the previous level without contradicting its laws and structure, but also resolving its specific paradoxes and indeterminations (second axiom). Thus we get a kind of ladder or scale going from the simplest level of organization (atoms, for instance) to the most complex (living systems), and up to the highest creative syntheses. Heisenberg poses science and religion at both ends of this ladder (27-28), which then appears like a more or less discontinuous progression from the objective (Chaos) to the meaningful (Cosmos), from an empirical level of reality, entirely tied to physis, to a super-elevated, rational and spiritual level of reality, that of the “creative faculties.”

The arrangement of reality that we are looking for must progress from the objective to the subjective. Hence, it should start with a part of reality that we are able to pose as entirely external to us and where it is possible to overlook completely the methods by which we arrived at our knowledge of its content. But at the top of the arrangement, as in Goethe’s outline, lie the creative faculties by which we, ourselves, transform the world and give it form. (Heisenberg)10

The levels of reality are not found in the external world, which is obviously not divided into levels. It is the mind that, through adjusting its levels of perception (from the very close and small to the encompassing vision of a landscape or the immensity of the universe), through its language and thinking habits, makes connections between the elements that it distinguishes, and sees these connections as levels of organization. None of these levels of reality alone is reality itself: reality would be the infinitely complex whole of all the levels co-existing (cf., third axiom).

As much as the mind is interested in details and the infinitely small, it also looks for analogies, for meaning, for the “pattern which connects” (Bateson), for something unifying in the universe. The mind does not like to see only separate things, aligned next to one another without any connection between them; it wants to relate them together, to integrate them and to be integrated in them, in a vision ever more systemic and synthetic, until it is a cosmic vision or—I dare say it—a mystical vision. At that cosmic level, the world is luminous, wholly bathed in meaning, or to borrow Eliade’s expressions, flooded with a “surplus of ontological substance” (1959: 97), a “superabundance of reality” (45).

Actually, from one level to the next, the world may be less and less certain and objectively measurable, but it is increasingly significant and the mind is more and more an integral part of it: it is more and more a Cosmos, less and less a Chaos, in Eliade’s terminology. This is precisely why Bateson, as well as Heisenberg and Goethe, set religion—which deals with the cosmic and the spiritual levels—at the highest levels of reality. In fact, we find such vertical structures, levels stacked in progression from the material to the spiritual, in many philosophies and by contemporary thinkers such as Abraham Maslow—in his “hierarchy of needs”—and Ken Wilber who, informed by a number of ancient spiritual traditions, talks about the “Great Chain of being” (Wilber 1998). It is not always the same number of rungs or the same terms, but we always find some kind of transpersonal—most often religion—at the highest level, and classical physics at the bottom. Art is also always found in a region close to religion.

Let’s make clear, again, that it is the levels of reality, i.e. our different ways of looking at things that go from the objective to the subjective. Various fields may look at the same things, but with different assumptions, axioms and methodologies: the brook can be studied by the scientist as well as by the poet—and their respective descriptions will be just as true (or just as false). This may sound obvious, but it leads to an important remark when considering complex systems. For example, the different social sciences—sociology, anthropology, Cultural Studies, etc.—study the higher levels of organization related to the human and the mind (societies, cultures, customs, etc.) by measuring and describing the external manifestations of psychological and symbolic movements, and trying to predict their course: these are scientific type epistemologies. These sciences may work on very complex systems (e.g. sociology of religions), yet in terms of levels of reality, they can remain on a relatively objective plane and inform us only on the external manifestations of inner forces. Conversely, subjectivity and imagination have made an astonishing appearance in quantum physics and mathematics, inserting the “objects” of physics in highly imaginary arrangements with a strong psychic component. Another example is psychology, which on one end can be experimental and empirical, based on measure and observation, and at the other end, be psychoanalytical, archetypal or transpersonal, i.e. based on an hermeneutic approach. There is a reason, by the way, that the higher levels, such as art and religion, demand from the most serious researchers an hermeneutic method: the history of art in general, literary studies, which are interpretative and fed by imagination, depth psychologies which are informed by myths and poetry, and—as one might have recognized already—the history of religions as practiced by Mircea Eliade. The world is a unified whole, but we study it and relate to it at different levels: some fields of knowledge examine the objective dimensions of things and phenomena, while others, entirely different epistemologically, are played out in inner and subjective dimensions. With hermeneutic and mystical practices, art, and literature, we have entered the subjective domain of “creative faculties” (Heisenberg). We are bent over the inner face of things, their invisible, ineffable side, that side which science, in accordance with its axioms, cannot study.

Psyche and Physis—Consciousness and Matter

Indisputably, deep within ourselves, through a rent or tear, an “interior” appears at the heart of beings. This is enough to establish the existence of this interior in some degree or other everywhere forever in nature. Since the stuff of the universe has an internal face at one point in itself, its structure is necessarily bifacial; that is, in every region of time and space, as well, for example, as being granular,coextensive with its outside, everything has an inside. (Teilhard de Chardin: 24)

Jung’s work on archetypes and synchronicity, Bateson’s on the Ecology of mind, and the work of physicists—such as Heisenberg, Nicolescu, Bohm…—allow us to conceive of a universe that is not only extensive in spatiotemporal terms, but that also has inner dimensions: Bohm’s “implicate order,” Jung’s “collective unconscious,” Bateson’s “Creatura.” While the laws of physics govern the movements of terrestrial and celestial bodies, the great archetypes (space/time, Numbers and duality, the Creative Chaos, etc.) structure the inside of the universe. To mystics and pre-modern scientists, the universe had appeared as a kind of cosmic Being with “whom” it was possible to enter in relation, and which was knowable through contemplation, through resonance, and through homology (e.g. the correspondences between microcosm and macrocosm).

So beyond being a progression, or ladder, the scale of levels of reality seems to have a built-in duality.11 We see, indeed, two categories emerging, or two “levels of levels”: those relating to a scientific approach and those concerning aspects of inner or psychic life. It appears that the levels of reality are divided in two by the (imaginary) separation we perceive between the exterior world in which our body lives, and the mind that seems to dwell inside our body. There are the levels belonging to the objects of the external world (atoms to living cells to ecosystems), then suddenly—without any obvious solution of continuity—the levels pertaining to the inner world. There are the levels of the physical plane and there is the psychic plane; the world as perceived by the senses and the world we imagine or interpret; the extensive (space-time) and the intensive (inner life). Levels pertaining to physical things are the domain of science and increase from the simplest to the most complex (from physics to biology to ecology and anthropology); while those that pertain to the inner world go from the most fragmentary and disjointed (perceptions, events) to the highest levels of integration relating to poetry and art, myths and religion. Being there, an even more surprising distinction can still be made here, between knowledge (in the limited sense of objective knowledge) and consciousness—our more or less intense and thoughtful intuition that we are real and that the other and the world are real, which we feel without being able to prove it. The two are not opposed or mutually exclusive, they are rather in a relation of interface. The former regards the world of phenomena, while the latter is of an entirely other reality, expansive, creative, integrative and unifying.

Gregory Bateson: the Existence of Things and the Meaning of the World

Gregory’s father, an atheist, had his sons read the Bible, so they would not be “empty-headed atheists.” (Bateson & Bateson: 179)

This dual conception is also found in Gregory Bateson’s work. But this incorruptible non Cartesian, certainly one of the greatest critics of dualist separation, worked to unify this duality, to reconcile nature and mind, body and thought, phenomenon and noumenon, in one whole systemic vision. He looked for the “pattern that connects” mental activity and the physical world.

Where, in the clink of silver or the pangs of illness, do the mental and the material meet? And how does one construct a science able to speak, in a single, disciplined frame, of both reincarnation and protein deficiency? (Bateson & Bateson: 185)

In his late years, Bateson was increasingly interested in researching the question of Unity, and curious about the nature of the mind that effectuates this integration. He worked at developing a kind of “meta-science” that would cover living and informational processes from embryology and genetics to a true science of “mind” in the largest sense (Bateson 1996). He wanted to investigate this larger knowledge that could hold together the totality of the biological work in which we live, a unified totality that would have to include our psychological, spiritual and aesthetic experience, as well as our bio-chemical reality (Bateson 1996: 16).

(Bateson) had become aware gradually that the unity of nature (…) might only be comprehensible through the kind of metaphors familiar from religion; that, in fact, he was approaching that integrative dimension of experience he called the sacred. (Bateson & Bateson: 2)

Excluding from the start any possibility of an ontological separation between nature and mind, Bateson looked at the communication processes and all the exchange of information that go on within and between living systems—exchanges that actually make them “systems”: they are systems because they are structured through information exchanges. Even though we will not talk of consciousness or self-consciousness per se at those levels, there is nevertheless information and communication among all living systems, there is exchange, relation… For Bateson, this means that there is “mind”—forms of mind present at all levels of life, from the mere unicellular in some environment or other, to an individual of the most advanced species, to the most complex ecosystem. In a way, he reiterates Teilhard de Chardin’s sudden insight, who concludes, when seeing interiority at the center of beings, that the universe itself must be bifacial in its totality. To discuss this, Bateson borrows a conceptualization from the alchemists and Gnostics, the “Pleroma” and the “Creatura,” which he had encountered in a small, most esoteric, book by Jung: Septem Sermones ad Mortuos. In those sermons, which Jung has strangely signed by the name of Basilides, a 2nd century Gnostic, Jung’s use of the word “Pleroma” reminds us of the “Tao”: the Pleroma is indistinct and everything in it is indistinguishable; it has no quality, it is emptiness and plenitude, nothing and everything, at the same time. Bateson uses the term in that same sense.

In summary then, we will use Jung’s term Pleroma as a name for that unliving world described by physics which in itself contains and makes no distinctions, though we must, of course, make distinctions in our description of it.

In contrast, we will use Creatura for that world of explanation in which the very phenomena to be described are among themselves governed and determined by difference, distinction, and information.

Although there is an apparent dualism in this dichotomy, between Creatura and Pleroma, it is important to be clear that these two are not in any way separate or separable, except as levels of description. On the one hand, all of Creatura exists within and through Pleroma; the use of the term Creatura affirms the presence of certain organizational and communicational characteristics which are themselves not material. On the other hand, knowledge of Pleroma exists only in Creatura. We can meet the two only in combination, never separately. The laws of physics and chemistry are by no means irrelevant to the Creatura—they continue to apply—but they are not sufficient for explanation. Thus, Creatura and Pleroma are not, like Descartes’ “mind” and “matter,” separate substances, for mental processes require arrangements of matter in which to occur, areas where Pleroma is characterized by organization which permits it to be affected by information as well as by physical events. (Bateson & Bateson: 18)

The descriptive and explicative language prevailing in science does not allow us to apprehend some of the Creatura’s levels of organization, particularly the highest, most integrated levels. Bateson suggests that it is through metaphoric modes of description (correspondences, homologies, models) that we will be able to know Nature as a unified whole, a living being in and of itself, as opposed to knowing it as a mechanical sum of separate elements. Eliade would say to know nature as a Cosmos, rather than as the Chaos that it appears to be to our senses, i.e. as separate things related only through the laws of Newtonian mechanics, for instance.

Heisenberg, too, had remarked on this distinction between types of descriptive language and deductive thought, which he called “static” languages, and a kind of thinking and language he called “dynamic”—giving poetry as an example of the latter.

In the region of “static” thinking one explains—insofar as the true goal of that kind of thinking is first of all clarity. In the region of “dynamic” thinking one interprets; for what we are searching for, here, are infinitely varied relations with other regions of reality that we may also interpret. (Heisenberg)12

Bateson: Metaphorical and Aesthetic modes of knowing
Art, myth and imagination enter here. These modes of expression operate metaphorically: i.e. through a mirroring of two systems whose structures and internal relations (their aesthetic dimension, in other words)13 are comparable. I write: “the world is a monastery.” This metaphor is a process of synthetic thinking: two propositions (“world” and “monastery”) are placed side by side and a homology is established between them. This juxtaposition is a simple affirmation, but one containing an infinite complexity (for “the world” and “a monastery” are both complex systems), which aims to show that there are ways in which, as a whole, this system is comparable to that one. By revealing a homology, the metaphor allows us to discover, through abduction, characteristics perhaps invisible of the first system. As well, it allows us to see actual systems where a purely descriptive language might only have seen two separate things without any particular relation between them, and for that matter, without much meaning. The metaphor also hints at some possible meaning of the two systems it has set in relation, and invokes in us systemic responses, such as emotions and impressions. I could as well write: “the world is a theatre,” allowing myself to contemplate an entirely different layer of relations and an entirely different meaning to “the world”; and yet this new set of relations would not invalidate the insight gained from the previous metaphor: both reveal knowledge about the world. Once established, indeed, a new metaphor reveals new knowledge, and this happens exactly like for the artist, who doesn’t know prior to having created the work, what the work will reveal.

Central to the effort to describe Creatura is the problem of a description consisting of multiple parts which is nevertheless unified, with a logical organization which in some way models the complexity of organization in living systems. Within the living system, myriad separate events occur, and yet somehow the whole hangs together. This is why it is important to see that each term of a metaphor is manifold—must have its own internal complexity. If “all the world’s a stage,” it is not a matter of identity between the parts of a theatre and the parts of the wider world, but equivalence of the relationships between the parts of the metaphorical structure and that which it models. (Bateson & Bateson: 193)

Because the metaphor does not deconstruct or tear apart the system it looks at (as scientific method does), the vision it brings forth is an integrated one. Art seeks to create such integrated visions by weaving within the work a network of analogies, homologies and levels of meaning. “A painting must be a portrayal of relationships,” writes Canadian painter Emily Carr (54). It is this integration which, by the way, we perceive as “grace” and “beauty,” Bateson explains in an article about a painting in Bali (1972).

Bateson argues that the creations of a mind present the same features as that mind and are thus, in some way, a metaphor of it (1996). This is important, because it would mean that art creates models of consciousness that it presents to consciousness. Art creates images of the world that serve as metaphors for the human mind to understand itself and its relation to the world. Art presents the mind with images of itself and metaphors of its relationship to the world: therefore some very specific raisons d’être and underlying structures appear, setting the mind in a meaningful relation with the world, and ultimately forming, literally, the meaning of the world.

The landscape thinks itself through me and I am its consciousness. (Cézanne)14

Art generates that sense of integration, also, by solving the ontological opposition between mind and matter: in/forming matter, breathing meaning into it, spiritualizing it, might we say, making its formal and aesthetic content an integral part of its ontology or mode of being.

Bateson on Religion

Starting off from abstraction of plastic elements, to combinations making them concrete beings or abstract things such as numbers or letters, we arrive at a plastic cosmos sharing such similarities with the Great Creation that only a breath would be needed for the essence of religion to appear. (Klee)15

Religion works in similar ways at the highest levels of integration. Religion presents to the human mind a unified image of the world, a ‘cosmicized’ image, where body and spirit, nature and humanity are interrelated and integrated. This very Batesonian idea would not disconcert Eliade’s readers, who saw religion as a Weltanschauung in which man feels integrated, and united within an organized and meaningful Cosmos that gives meaning to his entire existence.

The Australian aborigine had, in his totemic cosmology, a system that brought all natural species and forces and human institutions, plants and animals, wind and thunder, circumcision and the boomerang he used in hunting, into relationship and defined his place in that complex whole—and allowed him to use the sense of that multiplicity of relations in the decisions of his life. The European peasant in the Middle Ages went out to plow the fields in the presence of a great crowd (or cloud) of witnesses, patron saints and powers and principalities, and, of course, angels. The truth that the aborigine and the peasant share is the truth of integration. (…) For most human beings through history, the pattern which connected their individual lives to the complex regularity of the world in which they lived was a religion, an extended metaphor, which made it possible for ordinary people to think at levels of integrated complexity otherwise impossible. (Bateson & Bateson: 195-196)

“It is sacrality that unveils the deepest structures of the world,” repeats Eliade (1959: 150). But when he says that these structures are “unveiled” by the sacred, we can still ask ourselves by what agency and what kind of operation this unveiling is achieved. Bateson had already insisted on the aesthetic character of what unifies Nature; and he, too, meant aesthetic in the sense of internal structure, organization and form. Indeed, the deep (and not so deep) structures of the world are revealed to us through aesthetic experience. And what is art, if not the intentional creation of meaningful aesthetic experience. Because a religious system has form and emotional and symbolic content and because it is a representation of relations and structures underlying the world and because, finally, it integrates the “felt,” the irrational and the ineffable, it too is an aesthetic construction. In that sense, following Bateson’s understanding of both terms—art and religion—, we can say that a religion is like an artwork of cosmic proportions. And actually, this is an idea that Eliade would apparently not have disputed: “(For Eliade,) religions are admirable works, full of meaning and value: as much as The Odyssey or The Divine Comedy, or Shakespeare’s work.” 16

Preliminary Conclusions: Science, Religion and Art
Bateson has opened the door for a discussion of how art, as intentional and considered aesthetic expression, contributes to a perception of the world as having coherence and meaning. Then, the fact that Eliade sees in the sacred this very structure of consciousness weaving the network of homologies informing us about our place in the world, authorizes us to think that art partakes in that same structure of consciousness as the sacred. In my opinion, we cannot discuss the possibility of a “unity of knowledge” without seeing art as an integral part of it. Art’s truth is not truer than science’s, but what art sees, what it reveals, is not revealed through any other means—except religion, but religion is essentially concerned with the highest level of unity, whereas art operates at lower levels as well, levels that always reveal hidden relations and meaning, but often singular and contingent meaning, not always of cosmic proportions or relating to a mystical experience of the Unity of everything.

The importance of religion in the “ecology of mind” (Bateson) is related to the fact that religion informs us of the fact that there is a unity. But what it says of the nature of that unity, how it qualifies it, varies from one religious system to another and is true only insofar as a metaphor can be true, i.e. relatively. Art, too, evokes hidden connections, but nowhere does it state “this particular connection is ‘true’ in a scientific or objective sense, neither in the dogmatic sense in which religions sometimes pretends to be the Truth. Rather, it says something like ‘this connection is possible’ and reflects to see how it feels. Art implies that connections, in general, are possible; and if connections are possible everywhere, then meaning and integration are possible everywhere. This is really the message of religions, and also, on a different plane, the message of art: the world is meaningful, coherent, and it contains an invisible dimension which is infinite. And because it is infinite, all metaphors and all art works are “true” in some way, or at least, relevant somewhere. The inner dimension of the world is an infinite potential of creativity.


Of all available metaphors, the most central and salient, available to all human beings, is the self. Here I mean not only the psychological construct of the “self,” but the entire being, psyche and soma, for each of us the meeting place of Creatura and Pleroma. Central to the net of metaphor through which we recognize and respond to the world is the experience of the self and the possibility of reference to it. (Bateson & Bateson: 194)

For the artist and the poet, as for Eliade’s homo religiosus, the body and the earth situation (incarnation) appear as ideal vehicles for knowing the world: we actually can know the world because we are made in the image of the world, and we may know ourselves by observing the world. “Art is in the image of creation,” writes Klee. “It is a symbol, just as the terrestrial world is a symbol of the cosmos.”17 In here we find echoes of a pre-modern scientific idea: the homology between the worlds. In the microcosm of the individual, the macrocosm of the universe and the super-cosm of the Divine are reflected. Furthermore, that homology, that resonance between the Self and the world is also the fundamental, primary metaphor, or mimesis, of art and poetry.

The least religious man is not the atheist, but the positivist for whom any assumed correspondence between the world and the self is arbitrary. In the positivist’s mind, one cannot know the world by living in it, and the world cannot inform us about ourselves in the least: only observation and rationality may inform us about the state of the world, but its “supernature” (i.e. its meaning dimension) is unknowable, undecidable, indeed arbitrary. But that remains an intellectual position, one which does not imply the non-existence of the mode of consciousness that allows us to see the world as resonant with homologies, steeped in presence and meaning, and able to inspire in us such feelings as the infinite, the sublime, the numinous; or more simply, reverence toward certain things, places or persons whom we would then agree to consider “sacred.” Actually, the ontological status that one grants to the imaginary is beside the point: are imaginary constructions mere arbitrary inventions, or are they means to access a certain level of truth? Whether its creations are or are not real, imagination is operating in the life of individuals and societies: it has created all cultures, all religions, and all artworks… and participated, in a large measure, to the elaboration of philosophies and scientific theories. What Eliade says, is that without this unifying and signifying dimension in which we hear and understand the resonances between things, beings and worlds, the world is meaningless.

Properly speaking, there is no longer any world, there are only fragments of a shattered universe, an amorphous mass consisting of an infinite number of more or less neutral places in which man moves, governed and driven by the obligations of an existence incorporated into an industrial society. (1959: 23)

Whether the universe is meaningful or we simply « imagine » it to be, the sense of being real in a meaningful world is a specific state of consciousness. In fact, it is one of ourdeepest experiences, an experience that we can neither ‘objectivize’ nor prove, but which infuses all the literatures, religions and mystiques, as well as the arts, poetry, myths and films. The meaning in the world is not objective, it cannot be spelled out, and it exists only within us, in aesthetic form. It cannot be reasoned or inferred deductively, rather it emerges in/from the intimacy of our relationship with the world; it is a resonance between the world and us, like harmonics.

Art is contemplation. It is the delight of the mind that penetrates nature and divines the spirit by which nature itself is animated. It is the joy of intelligence that sees clearly into the universe and creates the universe anew by endowing it with consciousness. Art is the most sublime mission of man since it is the exertion of the mind trying to understand the world and to make the world understood. (Rodin: 4)

II. Art

The artwork presents itself as a metaphor of the mind that created it and of the world in which this minds lives—both the world and the mind in a Batesonian non-dualistic interface. The artwork is that interface: it is of the mind, but it is also material, it belongs to the world. The artwork inscribes the mind in matter, and makes matter reverberate in the mind. Through it we see the inside of things; we encounter hidden meanings, ultimate truths. Again, the meaning of art is not true in an objective sense; the artist invents it, or discovers it in the work. This is pure creativity, without any inference that the « invisible » could be determinate in any way.18 Yet through artistic experience, we come to feel that the world is dimensional, that it is not only a surface, but depth as well. And this is important: the fact that we come to see a world vibrating with hidden meanings, in a constant state of creation.

The meaning of the artwork is not of a linguistic nature, but aesthetic: it is by its form and materials, by the structure of its construction and its internal/external relations that the work is meaningful. One does not decode signs in the work as in verbal discourse; one rather enters in relationship with a significant structure.19 Artworks are not the only locus of aesthetic experiences: we resonate with fortuitous patterns in nature and we see beauty and coherence in them. Art is also not the only aesthetic practice of humanity: architecture, design, rituals and even culture in general, are of an aesthetic nature. So to look at art in terms of form, structure and patterns, certainly informs us about its modes of operation, but art’s nature lies somewhere else. Artworks are admittedly aesthetic objects, but to reduce art to aesthetics would be like reducing literature down to linguistics. In fact, it is not its functioning that elucidates art; it is rather its function. The essence of art is not found so much in the manner in which it creates meaning, but rather in the very fact that it creates meaning—i.e. its meaningfulness and the intentionality of that meaningfulness. I say “meaningfulness” instead of “content,” here, because the content of an artwork is not its “subject matter”—i.e. what it “talks about”—, but rather an open field of meaning, which cannot be subsumed under a given concept or thesis, as discourse can be. More precisely, we cannot say that the artwork contains and conveys any predetermined meaning, as discourse does. The meaningfulness of the artwork is more like a field of meaningfulness, somewhat similarly to a quantum field; i.e. the possibility, the probability of meaning. Meaning is created in the interaction with the people who come to relate with the work: their own intrapsychic contents are put in creation mode. “My work is a space of questioning and meditation, and the meanings one assigns to it can come and go, be done and undone” (Soulages).20 Hence, the meaning of an artwork is neither definite nor limited—it can’t be: it is the entire work that is steeped in meaningfulness, i.e. in the possibility of meaning. This is why the meaning of an artwork is an open meaning, first, and it is indescribable and untranslatable—often it is only a feeling of significance, as in instrumental music or abstract arts. These arts feel like they overflow with meaning even when they avoid references to the real or to any other form of codified or otherwise agreed upon meaning (symbolic, semantic, etc.); works, in other words, whose meaning we could not decode but which is nevertheless saturated with meaningfulness. What defines art, ultimately, is its intention to generate a specific field of significance, to set in motion, to make resound and vibrate, to actualize, the psychic dimensions of our being in response to it. By creating the work, the artist creates the parameters of that experience of meaningfulness.

The role of the arts is to explore the inner space of man; to find out how much and how intensely he can vibrate, through sound, through what he hears, whichever it is. They are a means by which to expand his inner universe. (Stockhausen: 32)

For most people, “art” is the art object: works, objects created by artists—works that we appreciate, buy, exchange, and comment on. The art object is impressive: often monumental, often expensive, technically skilled or technologically sophisticated, it does appear very material. But that object is only a support for something residing in intangible dimensions. Beyond that object we look at, listen to, apprehend with our senses, the “art work” is also, more so, the artist’s invisible work in immaterial dimensions during the creation or performance of that object. The work, in the sense of making, of labour, of actions performed, is about the in/formation of matter—i.e. the animation of matter by a mind. This broad conception of art presented here includes many archaic or non-western practices which were not, or are not necessarily considered “art” by the very cultures to which they belong. It also includes poetry, which is like art an aesthetic practice, even though it uses language. On the other hand, this conception does not include everything that is of an aesthetic nature, or that looks harmonious, masterful or beautiful to us. It only includes those specific intentional art-like practices whose function is to create meaning through in/forming matters or events (sounds, gestures, etc.)—as opposed to transmitting predetermined meaning via codified systems (such as charts, codified symbols, mathematics, and so on, which are sometimes looked at as “aesthetic”). I must also say that it should not include, either, works by artists who do not relate to my descriptions. There is no absolute definition of art. Art is a notion that varies from one culture to another, from one era to another, one practitioner to another. And for each definition we might find or imagine for art, we are able to find or imagine works that will invalidate it. I think this is more a sign of artists’ creativity and of their urgent need for art to remain a free, open field, than sign that it is impossible or useless to talk about art. In any event, far be it from me to prescribe anything. Instead, I am trying to delineate a whole set, or if I may say it, to delineate a specific “level of reality” among those designated as the “creative faculties.”

Art-like Aesthetic Practices: the need for meaning
Among all human practices devoted to creating and manifesting meaning (and there are many), the one that we most often refer to and with which we are culturally the most comfortable is discourse. Essentially linguistic, discourse creates meaning in the intellect and conveys it via verbal language. We have emphasized discourse so much, that we even hear about “artistic discourse” in reference to the content of an artwork. Yet rituals, practices aiming at altered states of consciousness, inscription of graphic symbols, adornment, valorisation and/or sacralization of objects or places, i.e. aesthetic practices, create a lot more meaning, or say, a greater intensity of meaning, than discourse. Contrary to discourse, which describes the world and speculates on its nature, or communicates about our sentiments and motivations, these other practices make manifest and act upon an invisible meaningfulness in the world, and immerse us in direct interaction with it.

Homo aestheticus enchants, bewitches, and calls out at the surrounding world. He communicates with the cosmos, with other humans and with himself. Tracing the outlines of animal shapes on cavern walls, inscribing signs and symbols on stones, tools, places, she reminds herself of what she knows, to know it better. He invents techniques to alter his ordinary consciousness, creates rituals to invoke the spirits of nature and of non human beings, he tries to intercede with evil forces oppressing him and with benevolent forces having possibly the power to save him, he utters his own existence, cries out his sentience, and marks his place in the universe. She devises magic practices to access paranormal dimensions, she acts on those dimensions, and acts on the ordinary world from those dimensions. She heals, individuates, meets herself, and tells her own story. She acknowledges the existence of things, establishes distinctions, consecrates, destroys, creates.

Related to functions such as healing, altered states of consciousness, individuation, exploration of subjectivity, clairvoyance, self-expression, communication with the cosmos and the non human world, spiritual development, and complex cultural functions—particularly political and social—, art-like aesthetic practices aim at making real and active the psychic field: to infuse mind in matter, actualize potential or undefined meanings, make visible the invisible, make manifest the immaterial. Doing so, these practices increase the intensity of psychic energy, and consequently, they intensify our feeling of being. They also increase our feeling of the existence of the other and of the cosmos—because our feeling of our own “beingness” necessarily goes with a feeling as intense of the world’s and the other’s beingness.

I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality, and at the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate. (Newman: 257)

This sense of existing in a meaningful world is, as we have seen, what Eliade defines as the sacred; and art-like practices enhance it. It was critical that the world we lived in would be meaningful; or else we would be lost, vulnerable, and easy prey—not only prey for stronger or faster predators, but also prey to fear, to natural elements, to night, immensity, thirst, winter. We had to be able to communicate with the elements, we had to find ways to exorcise fears, to recognize one another, and find our way. Today is not really different; we still have to live in a world of meaning. And we continually weave that fabric of meaning, like a cosmic “field of significance” in which we are immersed. This weaving is our “dream time,” that dimension in which the world is perpetually being created.21

Art and the Sacred: a Striking Homology
At the root of Eliade’s thesis, there is the statement that “sacred and profane are two modes of being in the world, two existential situations assumed by man in the course of his history” (1959: 14). It would be easy to show how the arts, myths and rituals of archaic cultures were related to the sacred; they were, in fact, the very practices and behaviours by which the sacred manifested itself in the natural world and in societies.

We must admit that in the beginning, any imaginary universe was (…) a religious universe. (…) The autonomy of dance, poetry and the plastic arts, is a recent discovery. Originally, all those imaginary worlds had a religious value and religious function. (Eliade)22

But to unfold the epistemic companionship that exists today between the sacred and Western modern and contemporary art is more difficult; more so since artists themselves resist this idea and are often among the most virulent opponents of the Church and religion. It is to the point that one could even see the history of western art as the history of the emancipation of art: that resolute process by which art has freed itself from religion and the sacred; has freed itself, actually, from any association with an institution or political function, to become autonomous, devoted to nothing else than itself. Yet interestingly, it is here, in this very separation, that the most profound homology appears.

For Eliade, religious man does not believe in the sacred because he has conjectured its existence, but rather “because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane” (1959: 11). In the more or less continuous fabric of ordinary space-time, suddenly something has value, takes on a different meaning than the surrounding world; suddenly something vibrates, shines, stands out against the rest, and feels like it is invested with a special kind of presence. Suddenly, we are face to face with the “manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural ‘profane’ world” (ibid.). Isn’t this reminding of Kandinsky’s words?

‘Thus, next to the “real” world, art puts a new world that in its externals has nothing to do with reality. Internally, however, it is subject to the general laws of the “cosmic world”. Thus a new “world of art” is placed next to the “world of nature” (…) a world that is just as real.’ (Kandinsky, in Golding: 112)

We lose count of the many times artists, especially in the 20th century, have used the terminology of the sacred to talk about art. But rather than making art subservient to the sacred, we get the impression, on the contrary, that they have wanted to enlist the sacred in the service of art, sometimes to the point of sounding like they were insinuating that art could aspire to the sacred more or better than religion itself.

Art is (…) a power which must be directed to the development and refinement of the human soul. (…) If art rejects this work, a pit remains unbridged; no other power can take the place of art in this activity. (Kandinsky: 74)

The use of religious terminology is not fortuitous: homo aestheticus is a homo religiosus. If the sacred and the profane are two modes of being, as Eliade says, then art belongs to the former, structurally, regardless of what the content of the works says or doesn’t say about the divine. In the following sections, I will show how Eliade’s descriptions of some of the features of a ‘sacralized’ world also apply to art: first, how the features of sacred space-time also characterize artistic space-time, then how the art object operates like a hierophany—with the difference that instead of marking the irruption of the divine or the sacred through a place or a thing, it marks the irruption of meaning and presence. I will continue by discussing how the representation of nature in art is, in fact, about a “supernature,” as Eliade uses this term. Finally, I endeavour to show how art, which we should consider as one of our greatest “creative faculties,” increases psychic energy.

Artistic Space and Time
For Eliade, sacred spatiality is characterized by breaks in the homogeneity of ordinary space. Those breaks result from a process of qualifying a given space which before the sacralizing event or act was mere “quantity” of space. Similarly, sacred time is also discontinuous compared to linear time. Sacred time gives value to a segment of space and/or time, and it is achieved by creative acts of structuring and defining. It would be no exaggeration to say that this kind of creative act is practically the primary definition of art. In the organization of an artistic space, we find the pattern of sacralization of space: the artwork opens a “wholly other” dimension, which no longer belongs to the surrounding context. The break in the homogeneity of ordinary space is in fact an important feature of plastic art, where the work occupies its own space: the framing of paintings, drawings, photographs, etc., is meant to first of all separate the space of the work from the surrounding space, and present it as qualitatively different. The frames and rooms devoted to art—stage, concert hall, museum—are solutions of continuity in very much the same way as the squares of churches, underscoring the fact that the artistic space is “wholly other.” The art gallery, the museum, the concert hall or theatre, performs a function similar to the religious temple: those sites define a specific space in which a different system of meaning and different logic—even different geometry, to some extent—from those of the streets will operate. And the artwork is not only “extracted” from the surrounding space, it opens a new space within its frame or stage—a new space where we will witness the effect of “absolute revelation” that otherwise characterizes a “sacred space.”23

The space of the work, cut out from the ordinary space, is an artistic space—not a sacred space—; it is a rectangle or a volume entirely organized and intentional, thus entirely qualified and significant, as opposed to the ordinary space which has no quality or meaning a priori. The spectator can completely immerse himself in the work, it will never fail him, he will always find something in it; the work has an infinite potential for meaning. This is not the case of ordinary places or things where the elements are arranged most often randomly or for functional ends.

And just as a sacred space is non-homogeneous, sacred time does not flow, either, in the continuity of ordinary time. Unlike profane time, which is mere duration, sacred time works like a “space of time” opened with appropriate rites at the beginning of the ceremony, and closed at the end. It is the same thing for theatrical time, which is opened and closed each time the play is performed. Same again for a musical piece, a choreography, a film; and they all have “boundaries” defining them as “other,” their beginning and end are marked by conventions or other means warning us that the play, the film, or the performance is starting and again at the end—like a picture’s frame. The film’s titles and credits, as well as clapping at the end of a performance, are striking solutions of continuity between the work’s time and our return to ordinary time.
Also, the work lives in an “other” time: it does not change, it does not age, it does not wear,24 because it exists in an absolute time, waiting to be re/created in the reality of the world—after which it will return, intact, to its absolute time, until the next performance.25 The time of the work is also incompressible: like its space, the work occupies its time entirely; one can neither shorten nor lengthen it, nor summarize it, it is an integral component of the work—if changed, the meaning of the work is altered. As the universe itself opens the time in which it exists, so does the artwork, opening its own time for itself to take place.

Like liturgical time differs from profane time—that of our chronology and agendas—, theatrical time is a “sortie” out of ordinary time. Music, too, (…) sometimes makes us go out of everyday time. Everybody has had that experience, and so it can help the most “profane” mind to understand sacred time, liturgical time. (Eliade)26

The Artwork as Hierophany
Eliade uses the word « hierophany » to talk about an event or object through which the sacred manifests its presence in the real world. The artwork, interestingly, meets the three conditions of a hierophany, according to Eliade: 1) the natural object continues to exist in its normal context, 2) its revealed content is the invisible reality or the “Wholly Other,” and 3) the mediator is the natural object shrouded in a new dimension.27

It is impossible to overemphasize the paradox represented by every hierophany, even the most elementary. By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu. A sacred stone remains a stone; apparently (or more precisely, from the profane point of view), nothing distinguishes it from all other stones. But for those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into a supernatural reality. (Eliade 1959: 12)

Marcel Duchamp made a convincing demonstration, albeit by the absurd, of the ontological situation in art, i.e. how, by what kind of conceptual and gestural operation an ordinary object becomes an art object. We see that this operation proceeds from exactly the same logic as the operation by which an ordinary object becomes a sacred object. By signing and showing ordinary objects, his “ready-mades,” in an art gallery, Duchamp showed that the act of treating them as art objects and putting them in an artistic space would render them “artistic” and make them acquire a signification entirely other than the one they had before being brought to the gallery. The meaning thus acquired by the object is pure “artistic meaning,” which shows that the meaning produced in the artwork—in the new artistic dimension—is of a different nature than the meaning of the object in ordinary reality. So it is not a mere shift of meaning, but really some ontological transformation: the object starts belonging to another world, the art world, it is from now on of another “nature”—its very mode of being is different. This operation is schematically similar to a “sacralization,” i.e. the operation by which natural or ordinary objects become liturgical objects.

When things, places, times or events are considered “sacred” or “artistic,” this means that they hold a particular meaning or significance, distinct from their ordinary reality—even as they continue, of course, to exist in that reality. But that meaning is not a mere hidden meaning, any meaning, like the meaning arbitrarily assigned to something so that it will “signify” (in the sense of “referring to,” as a signifier) something else like an abstract idea, a concept, a thing, etc. It is rather a matter of “signifying” in the sense of evoking, or inviting the manifestation of something else from a transcendent dimension, in the ordinary world in which the object, sacred or artistic, is located. This corresponds to the definition of a hierophany. In the case of something sacred, what is thereby signified is a divine presence (the numinous). The art object—agnostic except for sacred art—more simply signifies something transcendent about our psychic presence or the object’s presence, and behind the object, space itself, time and matter; but here, it is absolute presence. It could even be the absolute presence of weight, as Richard Serra so beautifully put it in his essay “Weight” (Serra: 183). Barnett Newman, probably the most theologically inclined of the American expressionists, insisted that the meaning of the artwork is to make us present, through the presence of an artistic matter. More than once he said that painting “makes something where if you stand in front of it, you know that you’re there” (Newman: 289).

This is not to say that any and all forms of symbolisation are sacralizations, but it is possible to say, I think, that the behaviour of granting certain things, certain places, times, gestures or activities, meanings that relate them to another, higher, dimension of meaning, proceed from a religious mentality, at least as Eliade saw it. Furthermore, the behaviour by which these “wholly other” meanings become primary meanings is also part of a religious mentality; and by that I mean that the “other” meaning, or the transcendent meaning, of something becomes its raison d’être, and the very reason that we are interested in this thing in the first place. In fact, the objects, symbols and icons that the artists work with, transform or represent in their works do not interest them as such, but rather by their power to evoke something else—be it something else entirely, or some kind of ontological reaffirmation of this very object’s essence or existence, that mysterious “double” (Todorov’s expression) which I will discuss later. In other words, in art, something may signify itself, be the symbol of itself: this kind of literalness, as in hyperrealism or Pop Art, is still a form of transcendence.

Supernature: the Invisible and the Absolute Presence
I don’t think one need a long argument to affirm that representation of nature in art—regardless of the style that is used—belongs to the mode of consciousness that sees an invisible supernature (nature’s dimension of meaning) behind nature itself. Artistic representation is never about representing nature as it merely is, but either about presenting (manifesting, evoking) its invisible dimensions, or about showing nature as a symbol of something else, as mimesis or as a metaphor. In general, the difference between the meaning of something (object, gesture, etc.) in its ordinary state of being and this same thing in a figurative work is a difference in the direction of intensification, caused by the intentionality of the representation and the bringing to the fore, or distinguishing, of that object in relation to its ordinary context. We find edifying illustrations of that kind of intensification in some types of hyperrealism—Canadian painter Alex Colville, for example. “I guess my aim as an artist is, in Joseph Conrad’s words: ‘To do the highest possible justice to reality’,” Colville said.28 He does, indeed, paint scenes in a realistic manner; and yet, his type of figuration is nevertheless called “magic realism.” In one well-known painting,29 we see an aged couple in their living room, the man sitting on a chair, the woman playing the piano—it is nothing other than that, a living room scene, but their presence (and ours, by the same fact) is intensified by the representation itself, which stops the movement and makes it eternal. As a result, the image is troubling, and we sense this “intensified ordinary” as strange and infused by something inexplicable. Hence the expression “magic realism.” But that kind of intensification is not found only in those types of realism, it is rather at the heart of the relation between art and nature. In highly symbolic iconographies from the Middle Ages, nature is utilized essentially to point toward its own “supernature”: the mountain represents the sacred mountain; the sky represents sacred heaven; and so on. The object represents its own archetype; it is a manifestation of its own (Platonist) Form. Renaissance artists started wanting to show uniqueness and specificity in nature: things were no longer archetypal allegories, they became particular, and because of that, they began representing themselves as such—we had the creation of a double, like a tautological underscoring of the object’s presence, which produces an intensification of its presence by making it a sign of itself.

Singular people, however meticulously represented, are extracted from the real world of men to generate their double. This double then floats in some intermediary space, between instant and eternity. Van Eyck does not beautify his models, he “absolutizes” them. (Todorov)30

The change to abstraction in painting and sculpture has somewhat disconcerted the 20th century public, but abstract forms in art were not new, by any means. Several forms of decoration, Kwakiutl or other Native American patterns, instrumental music in general, many forms of dance, are all abstract art forms. Yet abstraction is not fundamentally different from representation: both represent the inner dimensions of the world or the psyche. Actually, some artists have wanted to say that all figurative works should in fact be seen abstractly (e.g. Georgia O’Keeffe: “Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense”) while others have wanted to see abstract art as figurative representations of Self (“the formal sign language of the inner kingdom” Rosenberg: 38), or of intangible things (such as emotions, psychic contents, invisible or natural forces). Like any other art, abstract art reveals forms and patterns, hidden underlying relations, or forces in nature or in psyche. This is even more obvious in music and dance, especially, because the psyche is non-spatial and a temporal process. If music, for instance, has such a great power to evoke emotions and human feelings, or a journey, it is because journeys, feelings and emotions are patterns unfolding through time—and music and dance have the power to accompany and/or evoke them, or to represent them temporally; to be, so to speak, “temporal metaphors” of them.

Increasing Consciousness
What Todorov described as an “absolutization” brings to mind a phenomenon of augmentation, reminding me of a feedback or some circular causality. Seen from a more spiritual point of view, it is more like a phenomenon of intensification—addition of a “surplus of ontological substance,” as Eliade would say; intensifying the feeling of our own presence, as Barnett Newman might see it. Along with such increases in our feelings of “significance” and/or “presence”, in the end, it is consciousness itself which is augmented. Indeed, we find here an example of the process by which consciousness is created (Low), i.e. a movement of intensification happening through the addition of layers of “awareness of”: awareness, self-awareness, awareness of self-awareness, etc., like concentric circles. The increase in the intensity of meaning, or of our feeling of significance, literally concentrates the attention. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sees the centering of attention as a process of augmentation of consciousness: consciousness is not a linear system but rather a system of circular causality: attention fashions the Self, and the Self fashions attention. (Csikszentmihalyi 2004: 46)

Art, said Mondrian (42), is “an end in itself, like religion”: self-sufficient, it exists for itself, and the more one practices it, the more it “exists”—i.e. with more intensity. I would say: the more we practice art, the more we exist. And this sounds like a tautology or to borrow Csikszentmihalyi’s term, circularity: something that exists in itself and for itself, art, which generates the very concepts by which we talk about it and having no other purpose than its own reinforcement. Here is the whole mystique of modern art, with its “art for art’s sake” injunction. “Neither figures nor figuration of movements, nor feeling states, painting does not have to represent anything else than itself. But doing so, it also means that it brings the spectator back to himself” (Soulages).31 But that kind of tautology, far from being closed in on itself, works more like a retroaction loop, i.e. a mechanism of augmentation and intensification—intensification of the thing’s meaning and presence, as well as our (we, who are in relation with art and without whom art would not be) meaning and presence.

The cult of art-as-art centers around art as a magic, art as a second, or double, or super nature, around art’s immolations and unearthlinesses, around art’s timelessness, uselessness, and meaninglessness. (Reinhardt: 187)

When we see that kind of circularity or apparent tautology, i.e. acts or behaviours that cannot be understood or justified other than for and by themselves, we should look for evidence of a pattern of activation. When we hear that an archetype is not a “content” but an activator; when Heisenberg talks about “dynamic” language and thought at the creative faculty stages, when for Kant aesthetic presentation “compels the mind” and brings the reason “into movement” (Gasché, 96, 195), what we have, indeed, is a pattern of activation, of bringing into movement, which when sustained and repeated creates augmentation. It can only increase psychic energy, or in other words, intensify the state of consciousness.

III. Art in the Science and Religion Dialogue

To Baudelaire (…), the issue that agitates individuals in the depths of their being is the “taste for the infinite,” which persists as a human trait despite the dissolution of traditional cults and their systems of mediation. Modern man is a creature whose metaphysical longings today bring him face to face with emptiness. It is in its continuing attempts, perhaps foredoomed, to attain to the absolute, without resort to inherited signs, credos, superstitions that art embodies the present as a spiritual reality. (Rosenberg: 24)

No synthesized view of reality has replaced religion. (…) The consequence is that the modern artist tends to become the last active spiritual being in the great world. It is true that each artist has his own religion. It is true that artists are constantly excommunicating each other. It is true that artists are not always pure, that some times they are concerned with their public standing or their material circumstance. Yet for all that, it is the artists who guard the spiritual in the modern world. (Motherwell: 29-30)

I will now end this discussion with two brief remarks; they are not conclusions per se, but avenues in which the preceding reflection leads me. I believe that if we agree to consider art an epistemology in and of itself, as one level among levels of reality, then this would normally have consequences for the science and religion dialogue. And I want to believe that if a three-way conversation between art, science and religion ever happens, all three fields would be inspired by the insights gained from it. I can only imagine positive results from such a conversation, because these would be insights concerning our most intimate nature and our connection with the world.

1—Spiritual Experience vs. Religious Belief
Mircea Eliade was deeply troubled by the desacralization of modern existence. His hope that the sacred could be “camouflaged” somewhere was more than a mere intellectual challenge to the historians of religions who would come after him. It was a true hope for Eliade, because in his view, the generalized state of desacralization looked like an unspeakable spiritual, psychological and social catastrophe (2006: 145). In many ways I share his concern too.

From his monumental work emerges a clear—and fascinating—sense that there is a “history” of spirituality: i.e., that humanity evolves spiritually, that religious forms have changed, from Palaeolithic burial rites to the shamanic religions of hunter-gatherer tribes, to agrarian and urban people’s faith in gods and goddesses of fertility and war, to the great religions of the Book, the many forms of ascetics, the various monotheisms, and the Reforms. The current state of modern religious culture, seemingly torn between fundamentalism and materialism, could be seen in the continuum of this history, as a stage leading to new forms of the religious and the spiritual in humanity.

What I am sure of, is that the future forms of religious experience will be completely different from those we know. (Eliade)32

Many factors point to the possibility that we might currently be finding ourselves in the midst of an important break, as there have been only few in the course of history: maybe another “axial age,” as Frederic Lenoir puts it, borrowing the term from Karl Jaspers (Lenoir: 374). This “age” would be modernity, of course, which has its roots in the Renaissance. On a scale of the millennia between the Palaeolithic and contemporary times, modernity appears indeed a revolution as important as the beginning of agriculture or the development of metal technology.

Among all the things we could cite as defining modernity, there is the birth of the individual and the spread of literacy to all classes of activities (the two phenomena being closely related, in my opinion). Hence future forms of religiosity should normally be more individualized, more creative/innovative than conservative, and intimate.33 With modernity, not only has the content of our beliefs changed, but our very relationship to belief, to knowledge, and to spirituality. For the future, it is not the theological and dogmatic content of traditional religions that will carry us beyond our familiar systems, but our very ability to generate visions and create symbols, to sacralize, to turn our attention to invisible things and to make hierophanies happen. These are skills that artists develop, for they are an integral part of the practice of art.

This is here that art and the sacred meet again, after having traveled separate paths since at least the Renaissance, if not since the great epistemological distinctions set by the Greeks. Not only is the sacred effectively hidden in art, it even looks as though artists all through the 20th century have planted the seeds of a new kind of spirituality—a spirituality based on the search for meaning, for Self and for the Invisible, a non-theistic, mostly existentialist spirituality. I am not suggesting replacing religion with art, or that art could be a new form of religion, not at all. What I am saying is that art could serve as basis, or better yet, as a method for new spiritual quests. In fact, I am not convinced that we are looking for a new religion, at least not like those that have dominated spirituality in the past: those great mythico-philosophical creations aiming to gather all the activities, thoughts and institutions of a given community under the same metanarrative. This is not a model that would be in line with the evolution that we foresee, which rather seems to tend toward larger multicultural and multiracial ensembles, becoming in turn fragmented into subgroups and subcultures. But it is very possible that societies in the future might want—or need, for that matter—to re-sacralize certain aspects of life and certain things that are too valuable to be given to economic exchanges and corporate use. The procedures and processes required for such resacralizations have always been related to the arts: it is dance, music, plastic and visual creation, etc., that we have used to establish and express the sacredness of things.

Beyond that, there is something new in the modern religious landscape: spirituality, which until now was mostly reserved for Gnostics and mystics, becomes part of the modern individual’s aspirations. By that, I mean this notion that everyone can have a personal spiritual experience. It is possible to think of spirituality as replacing religion in the future: the meaning of life and of the world would no longer be given by the kind of religious narratives we had until now, but would result from personal quest. Art would be a surprising but appropriate model and medium for such quests— many non-theist artists throughout the last century have set the grounds for this. Paul Gsell, who had a long interview with Rodin in 1907, asked him if he was religious:

“That depends on what you mean by the word,” he answered. “If by religious you mean a man who strongly adheres to certain practices, who bows before certain dogmas, obviously I am not religious. Who is any more in our time? Who is willing to abdicate his critical mind and his reason?

“But, in my opinion, religion is something besides the reciting of a credo. It is the sentiment of everything that is unexplained and no doubt inexplicable in the world. It is the adoration of the unknown Force that maintains the universal laws and that preserves the types of beings. It is the suspicion of whatever in Nature lies beyond our senses, the suspicion of the whole immense domain of things that neither the eyes of our bodies nor even those of our spirits are capable of seeing. Then again, it is the impetus of our soul [la conscience] toward infinity, eternity, toward boundless knowledge and love; these are perhaps illusory expectations, but, already in this life, they make our thoughts flutter as if they had wings.

“In this sense, I am religious.”

Now Rodin was following the undulating and rapid flames of wood burning in the fireplace.

He continued: “If religion did not exist, I would have felt the need to invent it.

“True artists are, then, the most religious of mortals.

“People believe that we live only by ours senses and that the world of appearances is enough for us. People take us for children who become inebriated by iridescent colors and who play with forms as if with dolls. People understand us poorly. Lines and shades are only signs of hidden realities for us. Beneath the surfaces [of things], our gaze plunges to the spirit, and then when we reproduce contours, we enrich them with the spiritual content they enclose.

“The artist worthy of the name must express the entire truth of Nature, not only the truth of the outside, but also, and above all, that of the inside.”[…]

“Everywhere the great artist listens to the spirit answering his own spirit. Where will you find a more religious man?” (Paul Gsell, in Rodin 1984: 80-81)

2—“Research” in art
I also believe that art could collaborate to create new avenues of research. Since the Enlightenment at least, we have had a tendency to disown the epistemological power of art, of the sacred and of our creative faculties to the profit of scientific certainties. I agree with Bateson that it is disastrous, from an epistemic point of view, to have lost the sense that the biosphere and humanity are united, and forgotten that this ultimate unity is essentially aesthetic and sacred (1996: 17), which means that we have lost the sense of how much, how critically, we need art and religion.

Because the meanings and the unifying connections in nature are expressed in aesthetic form, they are highly subjective. We can apprehend things at that level only by entering in relationship with them—but then, each one of us will respond differently and consequently will have a different intuition of the meaning and unity of the world. By cultivating and nourishing this relationship, our experience of the connectedness and interdependence of things gets deeper, we know nature more, and more intimately, but we do not acquire more certainty. Yet that subjective, experiential encounter with ourselves and the world, devalued in today’s knowledge, is absolutely essential to our survival, our quality of life and our consciousness. We might do well without gods, but we cannot do without meaning—and so if we are not instituting new systems of faith or new religions of the traditional type, we will at least need a certain spiritual creativity: what does it take, what kinds of practices, are the most conducive to spiritual experience and to generating the most sustainable worldviews? These are the very questions, I suppose, that led to the invention of yoga(s) and other known spiritual practices—inventions that have taken time, patience and collaboration and required much creativity and rigor. But those inventions were made in the context of established worldviews and religions; and now, not only we do not have such all-encompassing systems of myths and explanations anymore, but we have lost the sense of the meaningfulness and sacredness of life and the world altogether. Such reconstruction will take a lot of imagination and experimentation again.

I suggest that we start considering that as a field of research, as important for our future as scientific research. Intuitively, I know that there is something I know through artistic practice. I know something which is also found in spiritual texts and in books on meditation and yoga. I also know something which I never find anywhere else. This has to do with consciousness and certain knowledge of knowledge. But would I be able to study it without remaining narcissistically attached to my creations? Would I be capable of the same rigor in studying the irrational and the imaginary as the rigor science is capable of? In a very simple and humble way, I am talking about studying the effects our creations have on our consciousness and our sense of interconnection. This is far from being as easy as it sounds. In any event, it would involve a kind of epistemological “know-how” that exists in art. To make it a true field of knowledge would also imply, at least for those of us artists thus inclined, to not only make works, but to share the insights gained from making the work and from our experience of “being” in that way. As an artist, I would like, myself, to join the mystics and monks who share from their experience with scientists, and vice versa, in that communal attempt to reach higher levels of knowledge.


Homo sapiens is the homo who has knowledge and wisdom. We never cease to celebrate our discoveries and accomplishments, but we tend to forget that in order to know anything, what has to come first is the urgent sense that something eludes us: Homo sapiens is also the homo who knows that she and he does not know, who seeks and wonders, who is gripped by emotion in presence of the unknown and the mysteries. In earliest times, before they knew anything for sure, Homo sapiens sought to decode meaning in the random arrangements of nature, in constellations at night, in charred bones and thrown sticks, and eventually they realized that when making images of things, of Self and of the world, their very consciousness was heightened.


(I am grateful to Suzanne Boisvert for her patient and illuminating reading of my work, and to Erica Eaton for her precious help with preparing this English version of my essay.)

BAUDELAIRE, Charles. French poet 1821—1867
BROOK, Peter. British theatre director, born 1925
CARR, Emily. Canadian painter 1871—1945
CÉZANNE, Paul. French painter 1839—1906
COLVILLE, Alex. Canadian painter, born 1920
CONRAD, Joseph. Polish-born, British novelist 1857—1924
DUCHAMP, Marcel. French painter and sculptor 1887—1968
KANDINSKY, Wassily. Russian-born, German, then French painter 1866—1944
KLEE, Paul. Swiss painter 1879—1940
KWAKIUTL: Indian people from North West Canada and Vancouver Island
MONDRIAN, Piet. Dutch painter 1872—1944
MOTHERWELL, Robert. American painter 1915—1991
NEWMAN, Barnett. American painter and sculptor 1905—1970
O’KEEFFE, Georgia. American painter 1887—1986
REINHARDT, Ad. American painter 1913—1967
RODIN, Auguste. French sculptor 1840—1917
ROSENBERG, Harold. American art philosopher and critic 1906—1978
SERRA, Richard. American sculptor, born 1939
SOULAGES, Pierre. French painter, born 1919
STOCKHAUSEN, Karlheinz. German composer, born 1928

BATESON, Gregory, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. The University of Chicago Press, 1972
————, Une Unité sacrée: Quelques pas de plus vers une écologie de l’esprit. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1996
———— & BATESON, Mary Catherine, Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. Cresskill NJ: Hampton Press, 2005
BOHM, David, Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge, 1981
BROOK, Peter, The Empty Space. New York: Touchstone, 1968
CARR, Emily, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of an Artist. Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1966
CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, Mihaly, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins, 1990
ELIADE, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Harcourt, Inc., 1959
————, A History of Religious Ideas, Vol. 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. The University of Chicago Press, 1978
———— and ROCQUET, Claude-Henri, L’épreuve du labyrinthe. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2006
GASCHÉ, Rodolphe, The idea of form : rethinking Kant’s aesthetics. Stanford University Press, 2003
GOLDING, John, Paths to the Absolute: Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Pollock, Newman, Rothko, Still. Princeton University Press, 2000
HEISENBERG, Werner, Le manuscrit de 1942. Paris: Éditions Allia, 2004
KANDINSKY, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York: George Wittenborn, 1966
KLEE, Paul, Théorie de l’art moderne. Paris: Éditions Denoël, 1985
LENOIR, Frédéric, Les métamorphoses de Dieu : la nouvelle spiritualité occidentale. Paris: Plon, 2003
LOW, Albert, Créer la conscience. Gordes: Éditions du Relié, 2000
MASLOW, Abraham H., L’accomplissement de soi : de la motivation à la plénitude. Paris: Eyrolles, 2004
MERLEAU-PONTY, Maurice, Sens et non-sens. Paris: Éditions Nagel, 1965
MONDRIAN, Piet, The New Art—the New Life: the Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1986
MOTHERWELL, Robert, The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell. New York, Oxford University Press, 1992
NEWMAN, Barnett, Selected Writings and Interviews. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990
NICOLESCU, Basarab, Nous, la particule et le monde. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2002
ONG, Walter J., Orality and Literacy: the technologizing of the word. London, Routledge, 1982
REINHARDT, Ad, Art-as-Art: The selected writings of Ad Reinhardt. University of California Press, 1991
RODIN, Auguste, Art: Conversations with Paul Gsell. University of California Press, 1984
ROSENBERG, Harold, Barnett Newman. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1978
SERRA, Richard, Writings Interviews. The University of Chicago Press, 1994
SOULAGES, Pierre, Noir lumière / Entretiens avec Françoise Jaunin. Suisse: La bibliothèque des arts, collection Paroles Vives, 2002
STOCKHAUSEN, Karlheinz, Stockhausen On Music. London: Marion Boyars Publishers, 1989
TAYLOR, Charles, Grandeur et misère de la modernité. Montréal: Éditions Bellarmin, 1992
TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, Pierre, The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press, 1999
TODOROV, Tzvetan, Éloge de l’individu. Paris: Éditions Adam Biro, 2004
WILBER, Ken, The Marriage of Sense and Soul. New York: Random House Inc., 1998
WOLF, Fred Alan, The Dreaming Universe. New York: Touchstone, 1994

1. Plato’s Forms, Jung’s archetypes, and Eliade’s “structure of myths” could lead us to envisioning certain determinants in the universe, seen as a collective Unconscious; and some want to say that artists draw their inspiration from there. This is possible, but not a conjecture to which many contemporary artists would subscribe.

2. Some post-modern works using codes, icons and references present themselves as discourses. The definitions I am developing here may not apply well to those particular works.

3. Ma peinture est un espace de questionnement et de méditation où les sens qu’on lui prête peuvent venir se faire et se défaire. (Soulages, 15)

4. The « Dream Time » is the creation myth of Australian aborigines according to which the world, originally dreamt by the Spirit, is maintained into existence by the continuing dreaming of all creatures. (Wolf: 140)

5. Il faut dire qu’au début tout univers imaginaire était (…) un univers religieux. (…) L’autonomie de la danse, de la poésie, des arts plastiques est une découverte récente. À l’origine, tous ces mondes imaginaires avaient une valeur et une fonction religieuses. (Eliade 2006: 158-159)

6. There is not only a break in the homogeneity of space; there is also revelation of an absolute reality, opposed to the nonreality of the vast surrounding expanse. (Eliade 1959: 21)

7. What might wear is the audiences’ response, according to changes in the socio-cultural, historical or individual contexts.

8. Here, the French word for performance—representation—contains an answer. A representation is the occasion when something is represented, when something from the past is shown again—something that once was, now is. For representation it is not an imitation or description of a past event, a representation denies time. It abolishes that difference between yesterday and today. It takes yesterday’s action and makes it live again in every one of its aspects—including its immediacy. (Brook, 139)

9. De même que le temps liturgique diffère du temps profane—celui de la chronologie et de nos emplois du temps—, le temps théâtral est une « sortie » hors du temps ordinaire. La musique aussi, d’ailleurs (…) nous fait parfois sortir du temps quotidien. Cette expérience, chacun l’a faite, et par là, elle peut aider l’esprit le plus « profane » à comprendre le temps sacré, le temps liturgique. (Eliade 2006: 121)

12. Living Room, 2000, acrylic on hardboard, 40 x 56.5 cm. National Gallery of Canada

13. Les personnes singulières, pourtant représentées méticuleusement, sont extraites du monde réel des hommes pour produire leur double. Ce double flotte alors dans un espace intermédiaire, entre instant et éternité. Van Eyck n’embellit pas ses modèles, il les « absolutise ». (Todorov: 177)

14. Ni figures, ni figuration de mouvements, ni états d’âme, la peinture n’a pas à représenter autre chose qu’elle-même. Ce qui veut dire qu’elle renvoie aussi le spectateur à lui-même. (Soulages: 109)

15. Ce dont je suis sûr, c’est que les formes futures de l’expérience religieuse seront tout à fait différentes de celles que nous connaissons. (Eliade 2006: 136)

16. For my thinking of this subject, I am indebted to Lenoir (for the trends in contemporary spiritualities), Ong (for the influence of literacy on cultures and societies) and Taylor (for the modern individual’s ethos).

17. A non-dualist duality, however, as we will soon see with Bateson.

18. Dans la région de la pensée “statique”, on explique—dans la mesure où le but véritable de cette forme de pensée est avant tout la clarté. Dans la région de la pensée “dynamique”, on interprète ; car ce qu’on recherche ici, ce sont des relations infiniment variées, avec d’autres régions de réalité que nous puissions interpréter. (Heisenberg: 20)

19. “Aesthetic” referring to something’s internal structure, in the sense that Merleau-Ponty uses it.

20. Le paysage se pense en moi et je suis sa conscience. (in Merleau-Ponty: 30)

21. Partis de l’abstraction des éléments plastiques en passant par les combinaisons qui en font des êtres concrets ou des choses abstraites tels les chiffres ou les lettres, nous aboutissons à un cosmos plastique offrant de telles ressemblances avec la Grande Création qu’il ne faut plus qu’un souffle pour que l’essence de la religion s’actualise. (Klee: 39)

22. Les religions (pour Eliade) sont des œuvres admirables, pleines de sens et de valeur : tout autant que L’Odyssée, ou La Divine Comédie, ou l’œuvre de Shakespeare. (Roquet, in Eliade 2006: 156)

23. L’art est à l’image de la création. C’est un symbole, tout comme le monde terrestre est un symbole du cosmos. (Klee: 40)

24. “L’Épreuve du labyrinthe” is not available in English translation. Citations from that book are my translation. / Quand on pense au sacré, il ne faut pas le limiter à des figures divines. Le sacré n’implique pas la croyance en Dieu, en des dieux, ou des esprits. C’est, je le répète, l’expérience d’une réalité et la source de la conscience d’exister dans le monde. Qu’est-ce que cette conscience qui nous fait homme ? C’est le résultat de cette expérience du sacré, de ce partage qui s’opère entre le réel et l’irréel. (Eliade 2006: 176)

25. “déchiffrer le camouflage du sacré dans le monde désacralisé” (Eliade 2006, 159)

26. All artists mentioned in this essay are listed at the end, with brief biographical notes.

27. See the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research: http://nicol.club.fr/ciret/english/indexen.htm

28. C’est ce que je fais qui m’apprend ce que je cherche. (Soulages: 15)

29. I intentionally paraphrase Gregory Bateson, who often used “McCulloch’s famous double question: ‘What is a number that a man may know it; and what is a man that he may know a number?” (Bateson & Bateson: 25) Similarly, he could have said: “What is the world that art may know it; and what is art that it may know the world?”

30. L’art ne reproduit pas le visible, il rend visible. (Klee: 34)

31. i. The ontological axiom: There are, in Nature and in our knowledge of Nature, different levels of Reality and, correspondingly, different levels of perception. ii. The logical axiom: The passage from one level of Reality to another is insured by the logic of the included middle. iii. The complexity axiom: The structure of the totality of levels of Reality or perception is a complex structure: every level is what it is because all the levels exist at the same time. Basarab Nicolescu, “Transdisciplinarity—Past, Present and Future,” text available to International Center for Transdisciplinary Research (CIRET) members, September 2005.

32. Nicolescu is the one who directed me to Heisenberg’s work, in op. cit., 2005.

33. Heisenberg’s text, originally in German, does not seem to be available in English translation. Untitled, it has been published in French as “Le manuscrit de 1942,” and is referred to in English as “Reality and Its Order.” All quotes in the text are my own translation. / L’agencement de la réalité que nous cherchons doit progresser de l’objectif vers le subjectif. Aussi doit-il commencer avec une partie de la réalité que nous pouvons poser dans une entière extériorité par rapport à nous et où nous pouvons faire entièrement abstraction des méthodes à l’aide desquelles nous parvenons à une connaissance de son contenu. Mais au sommet de l’agencement se tiennent, comme dans l’esquisse de Goethe, les facultés créatrices à l’aide desquelles nous transformons nous-mêmes le monde et lui donnons forme. (Heisenberg: 37)