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Posted September 12, 2001
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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