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The Logos of Nature

by Julian David

Part 2 of 2

Losing connection with the Logos of Nature is a root cause of the vast ecological crisis that threatens the further evolution of most life-forms on Earth—our own species included. 

Heraclitus, pictured in Raphael's School of Athens  

Thinking Imaginally
Myth is a powerful and supple form of thinking, because it thinks in image. The great pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus called it the Logos, meaning the way in which the world holds together, always by means of its opposites.  He said:

Listen not to me, but to the Logos.

This word Logos comes from the Greek legein meaning speech; but Heraclitus was referring to the speaking of Nature, not that of the Athenian Academy. For him, Nature speaks out of itself.  A tree ‘speaks’ through what it is, including its interlocking relationship, through soil and climate, to the Whole. His use of the word ‘speak’ is itself a move into the language of image. Image is how the world came to us when first we smelled it, touched it and listened to its sounds as children. 

To look into the heart of a flower is to be exposed to something we adults do not normally permit to ourselves. This is Mystery in its most powerful form, which is Beauty; and it is not easy to hold its gaze. We learn at school about the objectivity of logic, but here we are talking about the objectivity of feeling. The objectivity of feeling is a most essential element in consciousness that Heraclitus appealed for: 

Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience, this I prefer.  

He did not seek to make language conform to logic, but like his own philosophy, to the processes of Nature—a harmony of opposites, not their opposition: 

They do not understand how a thing agrees with itself at variance with itself.  It is an attunement, a turning back on itself like that of the bow and the lyre.  

And he upheld the inner dimension as equal to the outer:

You will not find out the limits of the Soul (psyche) by travelling, even if you go over every road, so deep is its Logos.  

Heraclitus was the first to use the word ‘psyche’ in the way we use it today, and he was also, for several thousand years, the last. In that sense he was the first psychologist, and it was psychology itself—the inner dimension—that was lost in the long desert years. When we realize that the Logos of Nature has nothing to do with logic, but rather with Being, we find ourselves in his mental world:

Listening not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to concur that All is One. 

A single cell splits into two, while remaining One. Soon it will be many cells, and still One. Soon it will be the whole world, and still One (as in the Gaia hypothesis).

The Logos of Christianity
Logos became established in the heart of Christian culture in a most convoluted manner. It was Latinized as Verbum, then became the English Word, and was the subject of endless hypotheses as to what it could mean. In spite of its obvious illogicality, the opening of St John’s Gospel was ordered to be read at the end of every mass:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through the Word everything was made that was made, and without it was there nothing made that was made

We let this pass by as rather wonderful nonsense, but at the unconscious level, its archetypal content makes it ‘psychologically indestructible’, and it has taken many guises. One of those is a continuous religious conflict between One God and the many gods, whose images Abraham smashed at outset of Jewish monotheism.

The Neo-Platonist philosophers of the Renaissance attempted to reconcile this conflict. It seemed obvious to them that the many were aspects of the One, and the One was the unity of the many. It is indeed obvious in the nonverbal language of the Image, but when Giordano Bruno went to Rome to convert the Pope to this very common-sense view, he was burnt at the stake to settle the matter. He had tried to take imaginal language into theology, but the theology of that time belonged to the Lion himself, to Power. And Bruno’s martyrdom was only one of many for the same cause. 

Nature, Psyche & Telos
Had the two modes of thought, the verbal logic of Man and the imaginal logic of Nature both survived, and with them the sense of two sorts of Being (as was Aristotle’s intention), they would have brought about an infinitely rich culture between them. 

The element in the organic living world that corresponds to the knock-on causality of the inorganic is teleology, the directional energy in every organism to move towards its end, in the sense of fulfillment. Rejected as a concept by inorganic science (which had no need for it), it is now the mainstay of the life-studies that have at last broken out— ethology, ecology, psychology and the rest. One of Jung’s fundamental insights is:

Psyche is teleology par excellence

This is why the active element in healing is an awakened instinct in the core of the sick person, whereby the personality can rediscover its telos and move towards it. It is like the finding of the Unicorn, and at bottom it is the work of Love.

The Consequences of One-Sidedness
That these two modes of thinking could have cooperated to produce the culture of the last two thousand years was simply not to be. The capacity to hold opposites depends entirely on an imaginal content in the mind. Yet the imaginal is exactly what the verbal logic of Man bans from its thinking. The exclusion of imaginal thinking easily generalizes itself into an unconscious war on Nature.

An anti-life principle can avoid aggression and violence only when it is in confluence with its opposite, through the imaginal. But the capacity to hold opposites within the same view is far from easy to achieve. Only the greatest philosophers have had it, and never (so far) their followers. So in the 5th century BC, the young men of Athens embraced Aristotle’s logic, but the nature of his physio-onta, was utterly lost—and with it all memory of Heraclitus’ Logos of Nature.

In its absence, there developed a one-sided Western culture, whose guiding myth has been an eternal war between Good and Evil, with the continuously tragic results we know so well. Ultimately, losing connection with the Logos of Nature has become the root cause of a vast ecological crisis that threatens the further evolution of most life-forms on Earth—our own species included. It's surely past time in this Anthropocene era, to rewrite the Gospel of St John in accordance with the truths of deep psychology, ecology and evolution:

In the beginning was the Logos of Nature. This Logos of Nature was with God, and this Logos of Nature was God. Through the Logos of Nature everything was made that was made, and without it was there nothing made that was made.  

←Back to Part 1 

◊ Julian David is a senior Jungian training analyst based in Devon, UK.  
    Publ. here 1.2.2016



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