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Varieties of Rebirth

distinguishing ways of being "born again"

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This document provides a structured overview of the variety of web resources concerned with rebirth in some form. It provides links to a separate document, an annex, offering brief excerpts from such resources or introducing them: Web Resources on Being "Born Again": Annex to Varieties of Rebirth (2004). The materials were gathered for a separate study: Strategic Opportunities of the Twice Born: reflections on systemic camouflage of mass deception (2004).

A. Cultural rebirth (renaissance, aesthetic birth, mytho-poesis)

B. Socio-religious rebirth (birthright, destiny, reincarnation, socal status, ceremony, ritual, group affiliation, games, sports)

C. Psycho-behavioural rebirth (sin-to-virtue, changing patterns of consumption, conversion)

D. Developmental rebirth (education, perspective, initiation, cultural creativity, individuation)

E. Therapeutical rebirth (release from trauma, mentors, self-help, discipleship)

F. Cognitive perspective (metacognition, critical thinking, philosophy, aesthetic sensibility, orders of thinking, systematics, orders of abstraction, disciplines of action)

G. Experiential rebirth (operacy, flow, embodiment of mind, speaking with God, born-again, possession, psychedelic experience, embodiment in song, spiritual rebirth)


There are a number of threads that indicate quite different senses of being "born again". These threads may interweave to reinforce each other -- or may reflect contrasting, even incommensurable, understandings or experiences. In a larger multi-dimensional scheme all these threads may together constitute a larger fabric of insight to which humanity has yet only partial access.

The threads or clusters explored are tentatively ordered in terms of increasing experiential implications for the individual. Two "paths" may be distinguished to relate the clusters

A. Cultural rebirth

[resources] This is significant as an exciting context from which individuals may benefit. However its scope, as possibly recognized only with the hindsight of historical commentary, may well beyond the capacity of any to recognize in the moment.

B. Socio-religious rebirth

[resources]: Here the focus is on socially recognized processes (notably religion), irrespective of the experiential implications for the individual. Such experiential significance may be deliberately attributed to these processes and claims may be made in this respect, but the various dimensions of being "reborn" are here considered primarily in terms of their "external" social implications. These may not preclude an "inner" experiential sense of having been "born again" (discussed later), but they should not be understood to guarantee them.

C. Psycho-behavioural rebirth

[resources]: It is in this category that the possible behavioural consequences of the forms of "rebirth" noted above may become significant for the individual and recognizable to a degree by others. A religious community may seek to facilitate such a shift in behaviour and to sustain those with a tendency to backslide. The focus remains however on the outer manifestations of any inner "rebirth".

D. Developmental rebirth

[resources]: The following understandings of rebirth no longer focus on preconditions but rather on a developmental pathway, or cycle, imbued by emerging awareness of the subtleties of its guiding values, perhaps as "strange attractors" (Values as***). The emphasis here might be understood as more "descriptive" of the stages and their affective dimensions than on the cognitive insights assocuiated with them (as discussed later).

E. Therapeutical rebirth

[resources]: In this cluster the focus is on the experiential quality of the individual, of which any behavioural consequences are merely symptoms. Here however the concern is with the actions of the therapist seeking to facilitate the "rebirth" of the person. In an ideal spiritual or religious community, this therapeutic preoccupation for the transformation of the inner life of the person would be distinct from any preoccupation with its outer consequences. The focus here might usefully be understood as being on the preconditions for any subsequent acquisition of transforming insight.

F. Cognitive perspective

[(resources]: Here the emphasis is on knowledge and how it is organized in terms of different levels of insight.

  • Metacognition: Educators recognize the role of metacognition at a very early stage in cognitive development in children. Animal behaviourists seek traces of it in animals. Its emergence is a form of "second birth".

  • Critical thinking: This is the capacity to reflect on thought processes and to determine their adequacy to a situation. It is characteristic to different degrees, of a number of disciplines and professions. The breakthrough into critical capacity is intellectually a form of "second birth". It could be considered basic to any form of "research". It is a necessary characteristic of consultants in general (notably management consultants), therapists, professional critics (art, drama, literary, etc). It is also a characteristic of sceptics (cf the Sceptical Inquirer **). Management consultants in particular are highly focused on the transition from an outmoded form of framing operational reality to one that is more appropriate (eg Edward de Bono. From Rock Logic to Water Logic). These transitions may be understood in terms of being cognitively "born again".

  • Philosophy: Whilst critical thinking may be essential to some forms of philosophy, a philosophical perspective might be characterized primarily by a radical search for comprehensive coherence -- engaging the knower with the known. The point has perhaps been well made by the statement of Socrates that "An unexamined life is not worth living" -- or the Delphic injunction to "Know Thyself". A person's philosophical development may be marked by various forms of "birth" into new understandings. The flavour is also well carried by a book title of Mary Catherine Bateson (Composing a Life ***) or by the experiment with reality that Mahatma Gandhi used to frame his life (My Experiments with Truth***).

  • Aesthetic sensibility: For John Keats (Negative Capability 21 December 1817), as a poet, the quality of knowing is as important as the grasping after what may be known. He recognizes the need to be "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". The sense of beauty then "overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration". (see inf qual ****). Achieving such heightened sensitivity is a form of rebirth.

  • Orders of thinking: Various efforts have been made to distinguish different orders of thinking. The implication in this context, being that the discovery of the relevance of a new order of thinking is a form of cognitive "birth"

  • G. Experiential rebirth


    Perspectives for the understanding of forms of rebirth

    From the above schema, links are provided to excerpts from web resources presented as an annex (Web Resources on Being "Born Again": Annex to Varieties of Rebirth, 2004). Some of the distinctions made above are quite artificial. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There is a high degree of overlap or mutual entrainment between some of those highlighted -- consistent with their interweaving within a larger fabric. In considering understandings of rebirth from the above distinctions, it is useful to draw attention to the following :

    Perspectives for the understanding of forms of rebirth
    (derived from Varieties of Rebirth: distinguishing ways of being "born again", 2004)
    Metaphors of qualitative emergence
    lateral metaphor A "rebirth" may not necessarily result in significant new insight; it may be more the transition to a parallel or alternative perspective, or to even "more of the same". Political "conversions" may well be of this kind. As noted by Karin Jironet: "conservation of a dual conceptual structure can prompt the re-birth of the once-born, the 'twice-once-born'". [text] Such alternatives are suggested by Howard Gardner's classic study Frames of Mind : The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983).
    cyclic metaphor (repetition) A succession of "rebirths" may repeat in a cycle, a concept explored in the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of the "wheel of suffering", "wheel of birth", or the "wheel of life", to which individuals are "bound", being currently unable to achieve the insight to release themselves from it
    depth metaphor (superficial vs profound) Any term such as "born again" does not adequately distinguish between superficial (even very superficial) experience and that which is profoundly transformative of understanding. The "rebirths" of some may therefore be considered essentially trivial by others. In these terms, "birth" is potentially the emergence of greater insight, possibly understood as integration of the unconscious in an individuation process -- and notably the reframing of the relationship between subject and object, knower and known. But some "births" may be a "peak experience" of only momentary significance, possibly only temporarily evoked by circumstances.
    embodiment metaphor Being "born again" may be understood in terms of being in some way embodied by reality or embodying reality to a progressively greater degree. For example Michael Murphy (The Future of the Body: explorations into the further evolution of human nature, 1992) identified 12 attributes or developmental classes that give rise to the extraordinary: perception, cognition, volition, the hedonic response (namely relation to pain and pleasure), sense of self, movement abilities, abilities to manipulate the environment, capacity for love, and the very structure of the body itself [more]; pr the work of Francesco Varela, et al. (The Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human expression, 1991). Christians use this metaphor in terms of embodying Christ or being embodied by Christ. From a shamanic perspective there may be a sense of possession by spirit.
    vertical metaphor (levels) Different degrees of understanding may be understood as being achieved by a succession of "births" through which more comprehensive perspectives are progressively achieved. According to the understanding of various spiritual disciplines, access to these may be described in terms of a metaphor of "ascent" (see Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities, 2002). Being "born again" may then be understood as being "twice-born", "thrice-born", or possibly more. Esotericists may distinguish a number of "initiations". Freemasonry may distinguish up to 33 "degrees" of understanding, into each of which a person may be successively "born". Many computer-based (internet) games allow for a number of levels to which access may be achieved. Some works of art, especially sacred literature, may be explored at different levels of significance -- some skillfully hidden.
    transcendence metaphor (grace) The quality of experiential "rebirth" may be dependent upon factors that lie beyond human ken. This might be understood as the supernal dimension.
    sudden vs gradual It is often implied that "rebirth" as a peak experience is "sudden" and spontaneous. However, in Buddhism, for example, a distinctionis amde between "sudden" and "gradual" processes of enlightenment, both of which are recognized (Peter N. Gregory (Ed). Sudden and Gradual; approaches to enlightenment in Chinese thought, 1991).
    entrainment metaphor This understanding of "rebirth" is associated with the sense of being drawn into new experience as if by a "strange attractor" (Human Values as Strange Attractors, 1993; Varieties of Encroachment, 2004). The attractor may be understood in terms of the highest spiritual experience or those of the greatest perversion.
    symbolism Understandings of rebirth, or being "born again" at one level may be primarily symbolic of qualities of rebirth at another level, possibly only indicative of therir nature
    resonance The symbolic relationships, notably in ritual, may activate resonances important to understandings of subtler forms of rebirth
    nesting Different forms of rebirth may be considered as "nested" within other more external, mundane or less subtle forms through which they may be sensed by others. Experience on more tangible and mundane levels may then embody one or more levels of insight of a progressively subtler nature -- or it may only appear to do so, or be claimed to do so. As with a set of nested Russian dolls, from the outside it is challenging to verify how many layers within have been transformed by the rebirth..
    non-linear The above listing suggests a reality to a linear sequence of "births" when the relationship between them may be neither circular nor nested; any mytho-poetic cultural "births" may be very intimately related to the experiential "births" of the individual
    verification Education (through a succession of qualifications) can model the succession of "rebirths", and the facility through which they may be achieved. Authenticity may be challenged by "tests" and "interviews", and recognized by "certification" and "qualifications" following specified periods of training or experience. As with education, the qualifications may also be obtained by deception, by payment, or be associated with false claims and counterfeit certificates with the complicity of bodies of the highest repute [more | more]. The nature of the rebirth may be a matter of assertion by those so "reborn" and any lack of verification may be tolerated by their communities

    Both the schema and the selection and presentation of resources are considered tentative. They are presented in this way as a means of introducing an argument (Strategic Opportunities of the Twice Born: reflections on systemic camouflage of mass deception, 2004) regarding the vulnerability of society to those of "higher" orders of insight -- who may not necessarily act in the interests of those of "lower" orders of insights, whether or not they make the unverifiable claim to be doing so in the longer term.

    THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD is the wisdom of man--
    This is the end of Being, wisdom; this
    Of wisdom, action; and of action, rest;
    And of rest, bliss; that by experience sage
    Of good and ill, the diametric powers
    Which thwart the world, the thrice-born might discern
    That death divine alone can perfect both,
    The mediate and initiate; that between
    The Deity and nothing, nothing is.

    Knowledge by Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)
    In: Nicholson and Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.

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