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on 2 January 1998
Saving the Appearances stands out among Owen Barfield's many books as his most straightforward explication of the evolution of consciousness. Barfield preps the reader with the philosophical puzzles of perception, but then goes way beyond perceptual psychology. He puts those puzzles side by side with what in the West is taken to be common sense regarding the nature of reality, common sense as informed by science. The implications of this juxtaposition of perceptual facts and scientific method are profound and demanding: a) human consciousness and the appearances of the everyday world are correlates of one another, and have been so throughout human history; and b) there is no other reality "behind" those appearances of the everyday world. Barfield pays close attention to the history of human languages, specifically the phenomena of change of meaning in words through time. These changes reflect the changes in human perception and thinking, and thus are clues and markers to the evolution of human consciousness. Barfield then traces out the implications for us today, for our thinking about art, about science, and about religion and spirituality. Other and more extended implications have been drawn from Saving the Appearances by Theodore Roszak (Where the Wasteland Ends), Morris Berman (The Reenchantment of the World), Stephen Talbott (The Future Does Not Compute), Neil Evernden (The Social Creation of Nature), and others. There are many, many books out now concerned with consciousness: what it is; what it isn't; its relation to the body; how can we study it. And there are almost as many books about the evolution of consciousness. These are written by philosophers, scientists, psychologists, historians, and metaphysicians of all sorts. Unique to Saving the Appearances is the combination of Barfield's keen logic and congenial style, and his wide-ranging and powerfully synthesizing mind. What is unique for the reader is the possibility of the opening up of the field of the senses, whereby one sees more than one did before. Reading, and wrestling with, the line of thinking in Saving the Appearances offers the possibility of the redemption of the senses. Saving the Appearances is not the work of an amateur, though it is congenial enough for an amateur to read, and careful and thoughtful enough for a scholar to refute. It will bear close scrutiny and deep meditation.
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Arthur Schopenhaur writes somewhere that only a few lucky bi-peds ever reach the exulted rank of 'philosopher'. Robert Pirsig says the same thing. It isn't enough to be able to write about the history of philosophy and write the ideas down. This won't make you a philosopher.

Brian Magee hints at this truth. Magee only hints mind, rather than points out the obvious, because the stranglehold is now so tight that nobody even notices. This is the law of strangulation.

It isn't enough to study philosophy in university and earn that doctorate in philosophy. What Schopenhauer is saying is that you can love the subject of philosophy, but you won't make it as a philosopher. You can earn a Phd in music but this won't make you a talented composer. So calling yourself a philosopher is like calling yourself Mozart or Napoleon. I reckon one of the problems with modern living is all those crazy people calling themselves philosophers being let out of the lunatic bin. The rich also suffer from a similar problem because they all claim to be entrepreneurs. But an entrepreneur is a rare bi-ped, like a philosopher. This is merely egoism gone mad.

Can you imagine a fellow on a radio program calling himself the equal to Richard Wagner or Beethoven? Well this is what thinkers with Phd's in philosophy do all the time.

I must say however, Owen Barfield is close to Schopenhauer's definition of a philosopher. Barfield is scraping the universe and he can really think and he's worth reading. He is only unknown because philosophy got strangled to death.
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on 17 April 2011
I readily admit that Owen Barfield's "Saving the appearances" is one of the strangest books I've ever read. I somehow understand it, and yet I don't. Is that how C.S. Lewis felt like, when attempting to argue with his "second friend"?

Barfield was an Anthroposophist, and he admits at one point in his work that it's really intended to soften the impact on the reader of Rudolf Steiner's ideas. Steiner was the founder of Anthroposophy, a new religious movement with many of the usual ideas (reincarnation, meditation, Atlantis etc).

The main idea in "Saving the appearances" is that all of reality is actually a "collective representation" created by human consciousness, which in turn is somehow identical to God's ditto. This somehow reminds me of Bishop Berkeley's subjective idealism, but in Barfield's version, human consciousness is evolving. Primeval man had something the author refers to as "original participation", apparently a kind of pantheistic near-fusion with nature. Gradually, this changed to another form of consciousness during Greek antiquity and again during the Middle Ages. During the modern era, humanity have forgotten that the world is really a collective representation of our own making. Instead, we treat our collective representations as if they were really "out there", thereby turning them into idols of the mind. (Hence, the sub-title "A study in idolatry").

Barfield is surprisingly consistent, even to the point of absurdity, as when he writes that our knowledge of prehistory (when no humans existed) is really a "symbolic" knowledge, since no "real" world could have existed before the advent of Homo sapiens. (George Berkeley solved the problem by postulating that the world permanently exists in the mind of God.) However, Barfield also suggests that perhaps the world *did* in some sense exist even before consciousness, since consciousness have always existed, but in a dormant and subconscious manner. I admit that I didn't quite got this part!

Barfield believes that the next step in humanity's evolution is something called "final participation", which I suspect is a kind of clairvoyance of the kind Steiner claimed to posses. Jesus came to Earth to speed up this evolution from idolatry to final participation. This is somehow connected to "the mystery of the kingdom", as well.

Please note that Barfield isn't simply saying that humans have perceived the world in different ways during different periods. He quite literally believes that the world *was* different when perceived by our medieval or Stone Age ancestors. Presumably, we can therefore change the make up of the universe by changing our collective representations of it. Quite an idea! Especially if "final" participation is really a version of Steiner's "spiritual science", by the help of which the Anthroposophical leader claimed access to information about the spirit-world, the past, the future, etc.

I admit that I haven't really assimilated this curious book. Although Barfield was on many issues more sympathetic than C.S. Lewis, I nevertheless feel a breath of fresh air and sanity every time I return to Lewis after reading the musings of his second friend. Somehow, traditional Anglicanism seems more logical!

I believe Owen Barfield once quipped: "Lewis had a need to believe in an outside world". Well, Owen, so do I. So do I. Indeed, I even suspect that might be the only way in which to truly "save the appearances"...
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on 9 November 2011
To my understanding modern idols are appearances-perceptions of an object, which are taken for the real object. In experience they may be compared to un-read words in a text, or to words whose significance is trivial, and therefore open to misunderstanding; and to psychic-associative use of the intellect. These are very common and collective experiences, so much that an evolution of idols has been developed and justified scientifically till our days. So what about the real evolution of the world?
Today's idols are being smashed in many ways, especially in the comic arts. Just to mention one I have recently enjoyed...the "Flight of the Conchords" tv series and songs. Comic talents are talented; what is missing and what Barfield encourage to do is to systematize this smashing through the correct use of our imaginative faculty. To this purpose he especially encourage us to put ourselves in Medieval man's mind and senses. I would add that a comic attitude also helps.
In G.Kuhlewind's terminology I would say idols are sub-conscious preformed images which compel our thinking. The light of our thinking (which is supra-conscious)is extinguished, its life trapped, in the darkness of the idol. This life takes a course independently of the will, that is, often in contrast to one's will. As an experience it may be felt at the boundaries of consciousness, but never fully grasped, because it is non-cognitive.
The book has an historical garment used to trace the evolution of idols and of phenomena in the course of known history; but the deeper purpose of the book is to throw light on the phenomena of thinking, perceiving, and language, which are of an immediate concern to the conscious reader.
It surely helps to answer an important question: "What is real?"
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on 30 October 2007
Barfield based his work upon a thorough understanding of that most ignored and most important of twentieth century philosophers Rudolf Steiner. Ignored I hasten to add largely by the academic world. Individuals have continued to study and develop the rich seeds that lie in Steiners work. Barfield is one of them, and what a richness he thus brings forth. The conclusions of modern science and postmodernism oten pale in comparison (see Ken Wilber). Steiners early works outline with far greater precision and depth the intellectual system spinning of Wilber. The modern thinker loses himself in abstraction and self-obsession without the aid of a true philosophy, Steiner provides this. It is those who are engaged with the penetration and living of Steiner's work that are shaping the future of the human race. Grandious sounding words to those who have yet to open their eyes and ears, but nevertheless a reality for some. This book presents Steiners work to the English speaking world, and confirms the far-reaching effect he had, and will continue to have on those seeking the spirit in the modern world .
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on 22 January 2016
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