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The Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley

The Invisible Pyramid (1970)

by Loren Eiseley

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Thanks for the recommendation. I found myself really relating to his almost casual style of thought exploration, and despite some reservations I had with his admiration for Francis Bacon I found myself unable to essentially disagree with anything he said. He has a bravery to try to objectively consider ideas that conflict with his personal prejudices, like the possibility that there is an innate human drive to consume the planet until no option remains but escape to outer space. After a long discussion of this possibility and its implications, he concludes that our destructiveness is not innate as demonstrated by our four million years of hunting and gathering.

He distinguishes this long experience of our "first world" of nature from our more recent immersion in the "second world" of culture. Complex agricultural society plunged us exclusively into this second world, enabling us for the first time to observe nature with the detachment that would give rise to modern science, the "invisible pyramid." (p.87) Before that, earlier civilizations devoted similar attention and energy to the construction of the real pyramids which memorialized their belief that the second world is of primary importance.

We, the "world eaters," continue to manifest this now demonstrably mistaken belief in our current society as we gobble up every non-renewable resource as fast as we can. Eiseley says that, propelled by modern science, we are the most aggressive society in history, that "the future has become our primary obsession." (p.105) We took to heart all of Bacon's scientific genius, but we ignored his belief that the all learning should contribute to the enlightened life. (p.69)

Science, and the epistemology of any culture, pursues a comprehensive understanding of the natural world that is meaningful to us in cultural terms. While our modern science is of great value on its own terms, on a larger scale, its value is less certain. Through myth, past cultures "had achieved what modern man in his thickening shell of technology is only now seeking unsuccessfully to accomplish." (p.114)

The question that arises to me is, wrapped up in these unquestionables of science and technology, is there a kind of social power that desperately needs to be questioned with at least as much vigor as the power of the state and capital? Eiseley does not break it down this way, and I suspect he would resist my doing so. He saw the hippies (contemporary to Eiseley's writing) as another manifestation of the same rejection of tradition--"Faustian hunger" (p.109)--that remains our culture's greatest pride and most lethal attribute. He is conservative because change--restlessness--is what drives the world eaters. But his conservative impulse that would be desirable in a sustainable culture seems incompatible with the task of changing our unsustainable one.

This is probably the source of the resignation I detected, which bothered me a little bit throughout the work. In the end Eiseley expresses a sincere and heartfelt love for the world: we must make a "conscious reentry into the sunflower forest" (p.155) which our culture has turned into "an instrument," a "mere source of materials." (p.143) If we succeed in doing so, he imagines that we will have realized something of the "axial" values of Christ, Buddha, Confucius, and Lao-Tse. But when he associates the social tumult of the 1960s with the culture of the world eaters, he presents a real challenge to the possibility of the social revolution that is required to achieve the end he desires. ( )
  dmac7 | Jun 14, 2013 |
Poetic, magical prose showing what man has lost by forgetting natural values. ( )
1 vote pansociety | Oct 14, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Loren Eiseleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ferro, WalterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080326738X, Paperback)

In July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon, a feat millions of earthbound observers cheered. Loren Eiseley, an ecologist and conservationist, saw little cause for celebration in the astronauts' arrival, however. In a series of lectures delivered at the University of Washington later in 1969 and collected in this slender volume, Eiseley took the occasion of the lunar landing to consider how far humans had to go in understanding their own small corner of the universe, their home planet, much less what he called the "cosmic prison" of space. Likening humans to the microscopic phagocytes that dwell within our bodies, he grumpily remarks, "We know only a little more extended reality than the hypothetical creature below us. Above us may lie realms it is beyond our power to grasp." Science, he suggests, would be better put to examining that which lies immediately before us, although he allows that the quest to explore space is so firmly rooted in Western technological culture that it was unlikely to be abandoned simply because of his urging. Eiseley's opinion continues to be influential among certain environmentalists, and these graceful essays show why that should be so. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:47 -0400)

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