McLuhan as Metaphysician: McLuhan’s Implicit Cosmological Picture

© The Estate of Yousuf Karsh. All Rights Reserved  
By Finn Sinnott
Introductory Remarks

It seems to me that before McLuhan no one had explicitly or thoroughly assessed and analysed the mediums by which we think and act. Languages confer upon individuals the capacity for consciousness, for thought as we know it, which is why Wittgenstein said that the thought is the language. It may be said that conscious reflection is only made possible by transferring the energies of existence into explicit and discernible forms and patterns. 

Languages, as well as giving us the capacity for abstract human thought, may also be seen as defining the limits by which we can think. This is at least partially what McLuhan meant by saying that the medium is the message. The medium creates an environment that makes certain things possible and certain other things impossible. For example, Paul Levinson argued that the idea of an abstract supreme being like God could only be adequately expressed through the abstract nature of phonetic literacy.

For me at least, in order to adequately understand things, it seems that assessing the forms which make understanding possible is the most efficient thing one can do.
McLuhan’s corpus, to me, paints a beautiful picture of humanity’s place and position in the cosmos. I will now attempt to briefly sum up McLuhan’s picture, but would also like to make clear that this is my interpretation of McLuhan and is thus unique and relative to me.
………… [snip]………….
It was McLuhan’s view that phonetic literacy brought us out of the acoustic tribal world and into the highly visual civilized world. This transition resulted in an increase in explicit analytical conscious awareness but also resulted in a rigid split between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind (as well as many other rigid splits) and a decrease in awareness of the multi-dimensional dynamics of acoustic space and experience. This limited awareness of the complexity of multi-dimensional experience held so long as we lived in a print oriented culture, because, as established in the introduction, mediums (in this case print) define the limits by which thought can operate.

However, I do not wish to imply here, and neither did McLuhan, that media are deterministic. For example, I would argue that, during the high times of print culture, classical science and the Renaissance, William Blake was a figure who strongly perceived the complex multi-dimensional nature of existence.

In the electric or information age, the unconscious is once more apparent and inescapable as a result of retrieved forms of acoustic simultaneous awareness, and yet we have retained, precisely through the continuing power and presence of literacy, a unique conscious awareness of complex experiences which tribal people simply did not have. 

We now have the potentiality to be aware of the multi-dimensional acoustic world that envelops us, as has been well demonstrated through much modern art, science and thought in general. (This is an excerpt. Read the full essay at .

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