Nicholas Baxter

Escape From Flatland: Apostasy Redux

Last week while reading the work of my newest fascination Ken Wilber, I stumbled quite happily upon an eloquent explanation of one of the central themes of my ongoing series, The Apostasy.

Wilber’s brilliant writings have been a huge influence as of late, on both my life and the conceptual side of my art. His staggeringly comprehensive, “post-postmodern” philosophical synthesis of every major tradition of human knowledge is called Integral Theory.

The Quadrants: insides, outsides, singular, and plural.

One of the central tenets of Integral is the quadrant system, which is a way of describing literally every aspect of reality (which Wilber calls the “Kosmos”), including ourselves and our perception. The usefulness of the quadrant system lies in the user’s ability to critique a person or movement who may be falsely claiming absolute truth based on partial or inadequate knowledge. That is, limited knowledge hailing from only one or some of the 4 quadrants, rather than comprehensively stemming from (and thus integrating) all of them.

“The Kosmos” means everything.

Enter here the postmodern reign of materialism and its hallmark of scientific reductionism, which flattens all of reality to merely what can be perceived, charted, or quantified with the physical senses.  This phenomenon, while leading to remarkable advances in the physical sciences and Western/allopathic medicine, has ironically also led to devastating consequences on human health and happiness, as well as on the Earth and its fragile ecosystem.  Ken Wilber has accurately dubbed this phenomenon–this mental paradigm–Flatland.

This ripe contradiction, and the spotty veil of incomplete truth that the postmodern materialist worldview presents, were the fertile ground for many of the concepts I’ve attempted to portray through this series of paintings.  Reading the words of Ken Wilber, which so succinctly summarized my intentions, inspired another revisitation of my central theme.

Wilber describes the Flatland process as such:

The flattening, the leveling, the collapse of the Kosmos. The universe was pushed through a strainer of objectification, and the result was thin soup indeed. All that was left of a richly multidimensional Kosmos was simply the sensory/empirical exteriors and outlines and flatland forms, much as if a sphere had been projected onto a plane surface, producing only a series of flat circles–all span, no depth–at which point we say, “What sphere?”

In short, depths that required interpretation were largely ignored in favor of the interlocking surfaces that can simply be seen (empiric-analytic)–valueless surfaces that could be patiently, persistently, accurately mapped: on the other side of the objective strainer, the world appeared only as a great interlocking order of sensory surfaces, empirical forms.

This…”view from nowhere”…could not prove itself–but rather was taken, literally, on blind faith, a faith blind to the entire Left half of the Kosmos.

(Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston. Shambhala, 2000)

This excerpt, when considered in relation to my artist statement which equates modern science with religion, sheds further light on these concepts:

 Surgeons and scientists alike have become the new priests of a material-industrial age, in which living organisms seem to be regarded as no more than an assemblage of mechanical parts…Science is the new religion, Big Pharma is the church, the doctors are priests, pills our Holy Communion, and sickness is our only hope of salvation when diseases are dollar signs that fortify the edifice.

And lastly–moving from theory to reality (I think I can hear snoring already…)–here’s a progress shot of the latest and largest yet, at 48 inches square: