The Nature of Syncretic Processes


Syncretism has a long history in Eastern and Western thought, and some may argue that all evolved philosophical and religious systems are the product of syncretism. An informative text on the links between syncretic processes, neurobiology, literate traditions and the 'correlative' structures of premodern religious, philosophical and cosmological systems is "Syncretism in the West: Pico's 900 Theses (1486): The Evolution of Traditional Religious and Philosophical Systems. (Tempe, Ariz.: MRTS, 1998). (


Particular observations to be considered here are the following: 

"No matter what their specific contents or origins, traditional religious, philosophical and cosmological systems tended to become increasingly complex and formal over time, to make much of proportions and correspondences, and to favour hierarchical organization or it's temporal analogues. The universality of these tendencies provides strong arguments against picturing those systems as products of unconditioned "speculative" thinking... I have suggested that cumulative syncretic processes, operating over centuries and even millenia, made those developments more or less inevitable". (p91). 


"Neurobiological evidence has accumulated in the past two decades that the neural assemblies underlying all perceptual and cognitive systems are organized in multilayered correlative (or topographical) maps - that hierarchical and correlative processes are fundamental to all human thinking. Once sacred traditions began to accumulate in literate form, the application of these processes to reconciling conflicting textual traditions - which were parodoxically thought to hide unified meanings, or even the "secret thoughts of God" - helped lift thought by its bootstraps, so to speak, to exaggerated hierarchical and correlative levels not attainable in the less stable ebb and flow of oral traditions". (p92). 


"But a consideration just of long-range historical patterns suggests one remarkable conclusion. Havelock has argued that the pre-Socratics' integration of conflicting concepts in the Homeric corpus led them to take "the vital step of expressing the idea of integration itself, as a governing principle of their method" - projecting into the structure of the cosmos (as in the Heraclitan logos) those abstract mental processes brought to consciousness by their own exegetical acts. In the far broader commentarial systems that evolved over the next two thousand years, we find correlative models of reality that increasingly reflected not just isolated acts of textual exegesis but the cumulative history of many centuries of such acts...and (man), in attempting to harmonise those texts building ever more complex and hierarchical and correlative models of reality that as traditions grew and further inbred came to reflect nothing more clearly than the nature of his own neurological processes". (p95). 


Syncretic processes are shown to develop hierarchical and correlative models of reality which reflect the nature of our own neurological processes - hierarchical and correlative processes fundamental to all human thinking. Further, syncretism functions as "a supraordinate act of integration, reaches beyond... old dissonant patterns, and then infer(s) a new mode of harmonious interrelationship". (Zen and The Brain, p602) Also of note is the observation that "in the frontal lobes are many supraordinate functions of the kinds one might expect could enter into syncretism" (Zen and The Brain, p604). The relevance of the brains frontal lobes has also been noted regarding the development of intuitive capacities: "It seems justified to assume that the intuitive functions did develop gradually along with brain functions until they reached the level we may find in human beings today. If we follow this idea, the next logical step is to assume that a further development will manifest itself in a further extension of some brain elements together with a further extension of consciousness. Incidently, the frontal lobes of the brain allow for quite a lot of further development". (The Light Pollution Handbook; Kohei Narisada, Duco Schreuder, p372). 


A further point of interest to consider, regarding the relationship between syncretic processes, the evolution of thought and our neurobiology is the support given by the work of Mandlebrot, which suggests iterative mechanisms drive the growth of complex hierarchical systems: "As Mandlebrot and his followers have elegantly shown in the last fifteen years, correlative (or "fractal") structures of exactly the sort found in these systems can be expected in any evolving system modified by an extended series of recurrent (or "iterative") transformations" (p93/94; Syncretism in West). 






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