Fluid Dynamics and the Urban Grid

The fluidity of nature in sharp contrast with the modern urban grid

Plato, Jung and the Superconscious

The reputed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung – who was, initially, a student of Sigmund Freud before they had a falling out – developed the concept of the collective unconscious in his writings. He described it as a level of the human consciousness that surpassed any influence of the individual ego, but was, instead, inherited by the individual as a kind of tribal memory – an instinctive level of awareness and understanding shared by and common to the human species as a whole:

While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.

My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even, if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.

Carl Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, pars. 88,90.

Jung proceeds to suggest that the collective unconscious is closely connected with instinctual behavior in human beings, and that “archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, that they are patterns of instinctual behavior.” (ibid., par. 91)

Jung’s ideas appear to suggest that, at some point in our prehistory, human beings operated purely instinctually, like a school of fish, perhaps. With the development of words and language, over time – in other words, the “verbal consciousness” or, in the language of psychologists like Jung and his mentor, Freud, the “ego” – this instinctual level of shared awareness became buried under and obscured to our “waking” consciousness, i.e. our beta brainwave state of conscious awareness. It is only now being perceived as, what Jung termed, the “collective unconscious” – the unconscious domain of shared human instincts and archetypal paradigms.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave of Shadows

Jung’s idea appears to share some degree of commonality with the Platonic concept of “forms” as described in the famous “allegory of the cave” cited in Plato’s Republic:

The Allegory of the Cave is a paradoxical analogy wherein Socrates argues that the invisible world is the most intelligible (noeton) and that the visible world ((h)oraton) is the least knowable, and the most obscure.

Socrates says in the Republic that people who take the sun-lit world of the senses to be good and real are living pitifully in a den of evil and ignorance. Socrates admits that few climb out of the den, or cave of ignorance, and those who do, not only have a terrible struggle to attain the heights, but when they go back down for a visit or to help other people up, they find themselves objects of scorn and ridicule.

According to Socrates, physical objects and physical events are “shadows”  of their ideal or perfect forms, and exist only to the extent that they instantiate the perfect versions of themselves. Just as shadows are temporary, inconsequential epiphenomena produced by physical objects, physical objects are themselves fleeting phenomena caused by more substantial causes, the ideals of which they mere instances. For example, Socrates thinks that perfect justice exists (although it is not clear where) and his own trial would be a cheap copy of it.

Wikipedia entry on Plato, § Themes of Plato’s dialogues

It appears, therefore, as suggested by numerous authors in varying traditions, that at some point in human prehistory, all or most human beings operated from a kind of shared, instinctual level of consciousness. Jung suggests that this is the “collective unconscious” while Plato describes an abstract domain of “forms” as the underlying basis of everyday experienced reality.

Literalism in Science, Religion and Media

Over time, with the development of conscious verbal communication – words and language – allegorically described, I would suggest, in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel – human consciousness became entrapped, I would argue, in a state of “literate literalism.” With the development of the “verbal consciousness” – i.e. the “word cloud” that we call the “waking consciousness” or the “left brain,” there appears to be no room left, in human discourse, for the unspoken, the unsaid, the tangential or the spiritual – in other words, for the non-verbal. We live under a tyranny of words – of verbiage, and the verbal – such that anything that cannot be verbally expressed is deemed not to exist. Everything must be taken at face value and there is no room, in this world, apparently, for deeper, hidden levels of meaning and understanding.

This “literate literalism” is what Plato would describe, paradoxically, as the “cave of ignorance” – a state of immersion in the literal – in material objects and perceived experience. On the other hand, the hidden, deeper, unconscious domains of reality are what Plato would consider to be the domain of “forms,” and what Jung would probably refer to as “archetypes.”

However, from the perspective of the modern literalist sensibility, informed by the verbal consciousness, the only domain that has any real existence is that which can be perceived by the senses and is tangible and measurable. From the perspective of “science” – which is often used as a buzzword or catch-phrase to refer to this “literate literalist” sensibility – if it is not tangible, observable or measurable, it does not exist. It occupies the domain of fantasy or delusion, presumably – of fairy tales and contrived absurdities.

From the perspective of religion, this literalist mindset expresses itself in the form of fundamentalism, in that all doctrines and texts must be interpreted literally and at face value, even if it generates absurd contradictions. The irony inherent in fundamentalist ideologies is that it is highly unlikely, if at all possible, that the authors and prophets cited by fundamentalists, when referring to their sacred texts and doctrines, were speaking or even thinking in a literal frame of mind. Rather, they were almost certainly all speaking and thinking metaphorically or allegorically.

This shallow, literalist level of human consciousness – obsessed with appearances and superficiality – is most readily apparent in the domain of modern mass media. In this domain, that which is onscreen, as it were, determines reality – the two-dimensional image on a screen (as in Plato’s allegory of shadows in the cave of ignorance) overrides, in its importance, even that which is directly experienced by the senses as three-dimensional reality. Ironically, in Plato’s allegory, three-dimensional experiential reality is itself only constituted of the shadowy copies of a higher dimension of reality – the domain of “forms.”

In the world of mass media, performers on screen are awarded with wealth, recognition and celebrity status largely by virtue of their onscreen appearance. Cable and television news, presented by actors reading from teleprompters while posing as intellectual journalists, invariably supersedes public discourse and even expert opinion, which are often censored and disregarded if they happen to be at odds with the narrative presented on screen. And, in this inverted domain, “reality TV” is the paradoxical rendering of contrived fictions presented on screen as supposed reality, superseding, in importance and significance, both reality as well as fiction. In that sense, it may be said that modern cable and TV news is a form of “reality television” – contrived, fictitious narratives being presented and disguised as reality.

Esotericism and the Superconscious

Eastern esoteric practices, such as Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Vipassana Meditation, emphasize the significance and importance of “going within” to transcend the illusory reality in which we find ourselves immersed in our everyday experience. This is the reality that is variously described as the conscious waking experience (Jung) or as shadows in the cave of ignorance (Plato). It is the domain of verbal consciousness – the word cloud or the conscious level of symbols and narratives arising out of sensory perception and experience.

Transcending the verbal/perceptual/empirical level of reality, in eastern esoteric and mystical traditions, involves certain practices that, typically, emphasize the importance of silence, both verbal and mental. In the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM), the mental recitation of the TM mantra enables the mind to settle down until it is immersed in the pure, absolute silence of the superconscious – an experience referred to as “transcending.” In the tradition of Vipassana Meditation, the practice involves following a code of conduct for a certain duration, which is significantly characterized by “Noble Silence” or “silence of body, speech, and mind” in which “[a]ny form of communication with fellow student[s], whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, [speech], etc. is prohibited.” (Vipassana Meditation Code of Discipline) The purpose of following this code of silence, in this tradition, is to allow for deep introspection and self-reflection. The basic principle, here, appears to be the same – the transcending of the verbal consciousness – the word cloud of perceptions, symbols and narratives that constitutes the waking consciousness – and an immersion in deep silence as a vehicle, presumably, to accessing deeper levels of consciousness – the superconscious – in Jung’s terms, the collective unconscious or, in Plato’s terminology, the domain of Forms.

The Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner claimed, as a clairvoyant, to be able to read the “Akashic records,” which, he suggested, reside in a higher dimension of reality, encoding all the information in the universe. Edgar Cayce, the famed American psychic, also claimed to have the ability to access this ethereal plane of reality. Cayce described it as “The Book of Life” and “God’s Book of Remembrance” – essentially referring to a level of reality that supposedly contained all the information pertaining to every human individual in existence:

Upon time and space is written the thoughts, the deeds, the activities of an entity – as in relationships to its environs, its hereditary influence; as directed – or judgment drawn by or according to what the entity’s ideal is. Hence, as it has been oft called, the record is God’s book of remembrance; and each entity, each soul – as the activities of a single day of an entity in the material world – either makes same good or bad or indifferent, depending upon the entity’s application of self….

Edgar Cayce Reading 1650-1

The testimony of these well-recognized and esteemed psychics, thus, also alludes to the existence of an ethereal realm of “forms” or “archetypes” or “akashic records” that, perhaps, is accessible to the individual via the “collective unconscious” or “superconscious,” through the application of esoteric meditative practices or psychic techniques.

The State of Flow

The experience of the superconscious may also be described as “unity consciousness” – which is characterized by a deep connection between the self and the universe – one might even say, a shared non-verbal understanding between human beings, animals, nature and the Divine. It may be said to equate, in essence, to a state of prelapsarian innocence and may also be described as “being at one with the universe” or “being in a state of flow.”

The state of being in flow is observable everywhere in the universe

The “flow state,” as identified by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is the “mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation of one’s sense of time.” (Wikipedia entry on Flow (psychology)). The identifying components of the flow state, according to psychologists Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi, include being deeply absorbed in the present moment so as to lose any concept of the passage of time – to experience time dilation or contraction, so to speak. It also involves escaping the ego, a “merging of action and awareness” (ibid.) and a sense that the activity one is engaged in is “intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.” (ibid.) When all these characteristics, along with a few others, coincide, they constitute what is known as being in the “flow state” or being “in the zone” or achieving “zen consciousness.” This heightened state of awareness, or level of experience and performance, has many similarities and connections with the state of “unity consciousness” or “superconsciousness.” Athletes speak of the experience of being in “flow” or in the “zone” – when everything falls into place and seems effortless such that one can do no wrong. Martial artists are also familiar with the concept and they strive for the experience of “zen” or being at one with the experience of the now or the present and with all of reality – if only for a moment. Martial arts traditions, in fact, are largely derived from eastern monastic traditions in Zen Buddhism, which, themselves, owe their ultimate origins to Buddhist and Hindu traditions emerging out of the Indian subcontinent and South Asia.

Achieving “flow state” may, perhaps simplistically, be described as transcending the ego or the individual verbal consciousness so as to access a heightened state of awareness or consciousness – “superconsciousness” – in which one becomes completely immersed in the moment, one has access to deep, fundamental truths and knowledge, one is able to perform at heightened levels (e.g. as an athlete or artist or any other such activity) and one is able to achieve a shared awareness with others – with human beings, animals, nature, the universe and, ultimately, with the Divine. It is a state of being aspired after by Indian ascetics and meditators, martial artists, Zen monks, American professional athletes and even Silicon Valley tech CEOs (e.g. Apple Inc.’s Steve Jobs and others). It is the source of ideas and inspiration, meaning and purpose for millions of people around the world who dedicate themselves to various esoteric practices, such as meditation, martial arts, Yoga, Qigong, etc., in order to achieve and maintain this state of heightened awareness or consciousness.

Energy ebbs and flows in fluid patterns such as through swirls, vortices, spirals and waveforms

The state of being in flow is observable everywhere in the universe. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that energy, in the natural universe, ebbs and flows in fluid patterns such as through swirls, vortices, spirals and waveforms, and to access and “ride” this natural flow of energy currents in the universe – as a surfer would “ride” a wave, for example – is to be in a state of “flow.”

There are videos online depicting the unregulated flow of traffic in a random city street somewhere in India – of thousands of tiny vehicles traversing a narrow junction from various directions without a single collision or incident. Pure coincidence, random chance, or, perhaps, an example of thousands of people being in a state of flow, if only for a brief period in their otherwise hectic daily lives? From personal experience, I can attest to such occurrences being quite common in Indian city streets.

Nature is largely constituted of patterns of flow

We can witness the patterns of flow and fluidity in various aspects of the natural world – the way schools of fish traverse the depths of the ocean, the way murmurations of migratory starlings fly in perfect ethereal synchronization, the movement of ocean waves and clouds in the sky or even in the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter! Flow is everywhere in nature and being in a state of flow, it may be suggested, is to tap into the infinite reservoirs of energy that are inherent in nature – to become a part of nature and the natural universe and to be energized by the energy currents inherent in nature.

Patterns of flow, characterized by interweaving, swirls, spirals, vortices and fluidity, are found in many ancient and modern artistic traditions, including in Celtic art and symbols, Indian and Tibetan mandalas, and Chinese and Japanese paintings. Patterns of spirals and vortices, especially the Fibonacci spiral, occur everywhere in nature, suggesting that it is fundamental to the flow of energy currents in nature.

Patterns of flow are found in many ancient and modern artistic traditions

One might wonder how being in the flow state, especially in concert with a group of people, may differ from conditions of conformity and/or groupthink. I would argue that there is a very clear distinction between the two psychological states. Groupthink or conformity occurs under conditions of fear and uncertainty, I would argue – when a group of people are brought together by shared fears or a common enemy into a shared, common purpose which typically involves surrendering one’s individuality and embracing a shared, thoughtless common goal, e.g. participating in a lynch mob or complying with government mandates, etc. On the other hand, being in a state of flow is characterized by people acting in concert voluntarily, for a shared higher cause – a common purpose that is greater than themselves. It does not imply surrendering one’s individuality but, rather, the shedding of personal ego, in order to be in synchronization with a higher order. E.g. being a concert musician or participating in team sports. In other words, being a team player and collaborating effectively with others towards a shared purpose.

Viktor Schauberger and Fluid Dynamics

Austrian engineer Viktor Schauberger spent a lifetime studying the fluid and vortex dynamics of flowing water. He leveraged his observations into the construction of ingenious devices including, apparently, small scale power generators and a device that created a “dia-magnetic field” – a kind of anti-gravity field. His story is a tragic one, however, as he was forcibly recruited by the Nazis during WWII and ordered to weaponize his knowledge of fluid dynamics. When he refused to comply, he was detained in the Mauthausen Nazi death camp in Austria and coerced into working on a prototype for an anti-gravity “flying saucer.” He is even said to have built an anti-gravity device known as the Repulsine to power the airborne vehicle, but his efforts were cut short by the end of the war.

It is arguable whether these reports are verifiable, but clearly, there appears to be something in Schauberger’s work pointing to fluid dynamics as a mechanism for the transfer of energy in nature – a clear indication that nature flows and transfers energy using currents with swirls, spirals and vortices – that these are elemental forms in nature, it would seem.

If nature is largely constituted of patterns of flow – currents of swirls, spirals, vortices, etc. – by which energy is transferred – then it stands to reason that being in a state of flow must involve participating, somehow, in these patterns of flow. A surfer, for example, can only surf ocean waves by allowing their own bodily movements to coordinate with the flow of the ocean currents – being agile and in flow. If they were to become stiff or rigid on the surfboard, they wouldn’t last long on the waves. To surf well, therefore, one must be in a state of flow and in synchronization with the flow of the ocean waves.

The Urban Grid versus the Flow of Nature

Sadly, what is most apparent about modern urban society is how far removed it is from the flow of nature. This is most readily apparent in the design of the modern “urban grid,” which is characterized by intersecting straight lines, for the most part. Aerial and satellite photographs of urban areas and landscapes clearly demonstrate the stark contrast between the grid-like construction of modern urban spaces against the natural flow of the surrounding landscape. Metropolitan urban centers, often colloquially referred to as “concrete jungles,” also tend to be characterized by grid-like streets and box-like constructions. The modern urban landscape is one of boxes and grids, essentially.

Aerial photographs show the stark contrast between the urban grid and the natural flow of the surrounding landscape

If we understand the flow of energy in nature to follow fluid patterns, as described earlier – currents of swirls, vortices and spirals – then it is clear that the urban space, with its constructions, would be disruptive to the natural flow of energy. This may account for why many people find urban spaces to be emotionally exhausting, confining and soul-crushing – energetically depleting – and long to vacation in natural environs – the beach, the mountains, forest reserves and state or national parks – in order to escape the emotionally and psychologically taxing urban grid.

It goes beyond the matter of modern urban construction, though. It seems, almost, as if there is tangible evidence pointing to the imposition of an unnatural “system” over the natural “order.” The urban grid is representative, one might suggest, of an industrial, technological system of control that is characterized by monolithic structures, centralized power bases, hierarchies, enslavement, confinement and a fundamental separation/disconnection from nature. 

Historically, the concept of the urban grid dates at least as far back as Roman times – possibly even Egyptian and Babylonian times. The Romans were famed for their construction of networks of roads to connect the urban centers of their empire while the Egyptians and Babylonians were world-renowned for their vast monolithic constructions to frame their prosperous urban commercial centers. Even the ancient Indus Valley civilization of the Indian subcontinent is marked for the construction of right-angled street grids and box-like housing settlements. It would appear, therefore, that the urban grid is an inherent feature of the process of technological urbanization and industrialization.

I would argue that the urban grid is a manifestation of a technological control system which is an imposition over nature and the natural order, which is characterized by fluid shapes and natural energy currents. This technological grid appears to be fundamentally designed to separate and distinguish urban centers from nature and the natural order, and to stifle, subjugate and control the human spirit within its confines. Along with that, it stifles natural human impulses towards creativity, growth, freedom, self-propagation and expansion. Instead, it encourages mechanistic conformity and robotic obedience and capitulation to the state and to centralized power bases.

Think of how much more liberating the urban atmosphere would be if it were fundamentally redesigned – if, instead of grid-like constructions, they were replaced by fluid, organic shapes and designs – designs that would elevate and energize the human spirit and be in concert with nature rather than being a soulless imposition upon nature. Perhaps it would allow human beings to grow creatively and thrive in profound connection with nature rather than cause them to feel stifled, oppressed and confined within the cellular, box-like constructions that we now call home!

Perhaps making such changes involving urban redesign, a shift in lifestyle, etc., would call for a truly out-of-the-box approach and thought process at a civilizational scale – to get us out of the boxes of the urban grid in order to experience more deeply the fluidity of nature – the “flow” state.

3 thoughts

  1. This is a great post. I’ve been walking down a similar path in my own thinking for a while now, and it’s nice to see other contemplators wondering similar notions about reality and “flow state”. Something wonderful is arising within the urban centers of our world today. New consciousness is blooming where people are gathering. Seeking out optimal performance and effortless doing is one face of our ongoing shift in awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

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