We sometimes use the phrase “epochal waters” to refer to the deepest layers of the past which we “swimmers” at the surface of the ocean don’t see or know. “Epochal waters” are latent, currents are closer to the surface.
There’s a similar idea from the French philosopher Michel Foucault who died in 1984. In his The Order of Things, classic from 1966, he talks about the “episteme” (as in epistemology) that frames everything from deep down. (The Greeks distinguished between “techne” (arts, crafts, practical skills and “episteme” (theory, overview).
“In essence, Les mots et les choses (Foucault’s The Order of Things) maintains that every period is characterized by an underground configuration that delineates its culture, a grid of knowledge making possible every scientific discourse, every production of statements. Foucault designates this historical a priori as an episteme, deeply basic to defining and limiting what any period can—or cannot—think.
Each science develops within the framework of an episteme, and therefore is linked in part with other sciences contemporary with it.
(Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault, Harvard University Press, 1991, page 158)
Take a simple example. A discussion comes up about what man is or does or thinks or knows. In today’s episteme or pre-definition, one thinks immediately not of man in terms of language or the invention of gods, but in terms of computational genomics, big data, bipedalism (walking upright on two legs). Its assumed in advance via an invisible episteme, that science and technology. physics, genetics, big data, chemistry and biology hold the answer and the rest is sort of outdated. This feeling is automatic and reflexive like breathing and might be called “mental breathing.”
One’s thoughts are immediately sent in certain directions or grooves, a process that is automatic and more like a “mental reflex” than a freely chosen “analytical frame.” The thinker has been “trained” in advance and the episteme pre-decides what is thinkable and what is not.
There are deep episteme that underlie all analyses: for example, in the Anglo-American tradition of looking at things, the phrase “human nature” inevitably comes in as a deus ex machina (i.e., sudden way of clinching an argument, the “magic factor” that has been there all along). If you ask why are you suddenly “importing” the concept of “human nature,” the person who uses the phrase has no idea. It’s in the “epochal water” or Foucault’s episteme, and it suddenly swims up from below at the sea floor.
Another quick example: In the Anglo-American mind, there’s a belief from “way down and far away” that failure in life is mostly about individual behavior (laziness, alcoholism, etc.) and personal “stances” while “circum-stances” are an excuse. This way of sequencing acceptable explanations is deeply pre-established in a way that is itself hard to explain. It serves to “frame the picture” in advance. These are all “epochal water“ or episteme phenomena.