Science, Psychology, and the Subjective Mind

More and more studies, while not disproving altogether Woody Allen’s theory that the brain is the second most important organ, continue to amass evidence to the contrary. In a paradoxical twist, new psychological theories suggest that what we think about a disorder may outweigh any ‘real’ effects of the disorder itself. In fact, what we now consider abnormal may soon be the new normal.

Modern diagnostics are so advanced that if there is even the latent possibility of a disorder, or the need or desire for one, it will be detected. This has raised new queries about the viability of science in the evaluation of mental illness; indeed, on its possible invention.

This re-visioning of therapy has prompted concerns over an alleged industry bias against the individual disposition. Critics charge that scientific credulity and impersonal assessment methods, along with the projected “symbol-complexes” of practitioners, make diagnosis “psychologically irresponsible if not negligent.”

Statistics show that a modern explosion in available treatment methods parallels “diagnostic over-reach”, leaving some to wonder if part of the problem might be a too-subjective classification system fitted to an ideal norm which is “ultimately unattainable, even as it depicts an average”. Within such contradictory confines, they argue, “the individual appears as a mere aggregate of eccentricities.”

Though the majority of consumer self-reports showed perceptions of progress after the suggested minimum of twelve sessions, those who underwent further treatment showed actual recovery rates similar to those with none at all. Many conditions deteriorated with extended treatment, prompting some to call for a revaluation of criteria.

Insiders confide that most consumers are presumed cured upon the declaration of bankruptcy and/or the reinstatement of driving privileges; though such later-stage variables as ‘high-school sweetheart syndrome’, ‘second-family delusional disorder’, and ‘transitional self-medication malaise’ were considered ‘pre-fixed norms’ and not included as ‘dispositional factors’.

Follow-up studies by legal firms representing insurance companies and maxed-out family members, however, found that ninety percent returned to therapy within a year. Recidivism rates compared with penitentiary internment, leading some experts to propose a “revolving door of therapy-addiction as a substitute for healthy narcissism.”

Crime rates, likewise, varied little between control groups — with one exception: those who underwent treatment before incarceration, when released, tended to commit more heinous crimes than those without therapy. In the system, even those in such informal programs as “Bibles Behind Bars”, “Inmates Need Mates, Too”, and “No Means No” were less violent than those who’d received formal therapy.

New theories are emerging which question the uncritical piling up of statistical data in support of industry interests. Along with Shamanism, Eye Rotation Therapy, and Dr. Wayne Dribble’s PBS snooze-fest, many are casting off the mantle of rational, scientific investigation for more holistic models of wishful thinking and the power of suggestion. One such intriguing model was conceived by Dr. Abnorm Drowze, the “irrational rationalist” of the Institute for Modern Solipsism:

Psycho-physics begins with the subliminal dynamics of the human dialogue. ‘Psycho’: ‘crazy’  – and ‘physics’: Greek for ‘out there’, combine the science of energy economics with a paradoxical process of ego-inflation designed to free the authentic personality from the false narrative of standardized therapy.

“At the core of Psycho-physics is the concept of projection. Certain feelings and intuitions confirm it to be psychologically meaningful; however, it cannot be scientifically proven to actually exist. Its subjective nature makes it relative to the individual in all cases.

“Since it is recalcitrant to objective appraisal, it’s seldom employed as a tool by method psychologies. These only ensure that its negative effects continue to work unconsciously. The evaluation of one subjective mind by another assumes the nature of a value judgment. The eo ipso assumption that such phenomena apply to the consumer alone, for example, leads to quite arbitrary conclusions and is therefore scientifically untenable, not to say intellectually unethical. The very definition of projection cricumscribes a universal function irrespective of education, social standing, or professional estimation.

“Equability demands its application also to the practitioner’s evaluation of so-called objective test results. For instance: Damitol is prescribed to a depressed consumer to raise flavinoid levels on the assumption that a chemical imbalance is the root cause. This view sees the body as having turned against itself, when in fact it has turned against the mind. Psychologically, this means the mind has turned against itself and speaks by proxy for a neglected body-image which is largely unconscious. The assumption of physical causation is only one side of the mind-body connection and reflects a split consciousness in conflict with its animal behavior. Such instinctive processes betray our dual natures and, when misconstrued, appear ‘crazy’ to practitioner and consumer alike.

“Quite natural self-protective instincts compel the consumer to react adversely to such implied judgments. A ‘knot of projection’ ensues in which consumer and practitioner each unconsciously think the other is ‘crazy’. Which carries the greater value? Both are unhampered presuppositions. The assumption that one outweighs the other is yet another subjective value-judgment.

“The practitioner’s projections will in fact self-replicate in direct proportion to the authority-complex. The principle of negative sums clearly states that the practitioner’s assumptions will not only exceed the consumer’s but cancel them out entirely. The result is that the judgment ‘crazy’ is unilaterally projected onto the consumer, the body’s chemistry, the test results – even onto the treatment. This is not a good thing.

“The therapeutic process often bogs down under the weight of this unspoken dialogue. Progress devolves into a ‘conspiratorial illusion’ which, more often than not, results in a stagnant state of mutual compensation and projection and leaves little hope for resolution.” 

 This is the point where psychology ends and the spiritual journey begins.

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A Cultural Mid-life Crisis?

Though we generally think of mid-life as an individual process, as a universal function, it applies to cultural changes as well. The similarities are notable, and Jung’s, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, highlights the parallels.

Regarding the conversion of opposites at mid-life, Jung wrote: “Just as before… disorders arose because… opposing fantasies were unconscious, so now other disorders arise through the repression of former idols.” The shift in focus over the last generation is undeniable; but increases in consciousness also depend on unconscious conditions:

It is of course a fundamental mistake to imagine that when we see the non-value in a value or the non-truth in a truth, the value or the truth ceases to exist. It has only become relative. Everything human is relative, because everything rests on an inner polarity; for everything is a phenomenon of energy. Energy necessarily depends on a pre-existing polarity, without which there could be no energy… Therefore the tendency to deny all previous values in favour of their opposites is just as much of an exaggeration as the earlier one-sidedness.

The point is not conversion into the opposite but conservation of previous values together with recognition of their opposites. Naturally this means conflict and self-division. It is understandable enough that one should shrink from it, philosophically as well as morally; hence the alternative sought, more often than conversion… is a convulsive stiffening of the previous attitude…. the symptoms, the rigidity, the narrow-mindedness… are unpleasant, not to say harmful; for their method of espousing a truth or any other value is so inflexible and violent that their umannerliness repels more than the truth attracts, so that the result is the opposite of the intended good. The fundamental cause of their rigidity is fear of the problem of opposites…”

Though religious fanaticism is an age-old euphemism for the fear of change, its cultural significance has declined since Jung’s time. The swing toward natural science continues to gain momentum since the so-called Age of Reason in the seventeenth century. But, as Jung noted, any conversion has its consequences. The rejection of religious values inherent in the shift toward science, however, is governed by the same general fear of inner opposition as the old extreme…

The brutality of the French Revolution which followed that lofty precursor of western rationalism continued unabated into the twentieth century. Jung wrote during WWI (remember? the War to end all Wars?): “…the rational attitude of culture necessarily runs into its opposite, namely the irrational devastation of culture.” A brief footnote in his 1943 revision reads: “As present events show, the confirmation did not have to wait very long.

“…one or other basic instinct, or complex of ideas, will invariably concentrate upon itself the greatest sum of psychic energy and thus force the ego into its service. As a rule the ego is drawn into this focus of energy so powerfully that it identifies with it and thinks it desires and needs nothing further. In this way a craze develops, a monomania or possession, an acute one-sidedness which most seriously imperils the psychic equilibrium.”

The shift from metaphysics to an “objective” science is the new monomania. Technology, media, and the atrophy of a collective value-system contribute to a paper-meche individualism while denying the subjective factor; contradictory unconscious tendencies whose energy exceeds intent appear only as conscious exaggerations. Ego-values subvert common goals and dissolve group-identities into anonymous aggregates – for those ambitious enough to exploit them. They’re beginnings of a new reality, but to understand what it points to requires a dual perspective  of unconscious functioning:

“The passion, the piling up of energy in these monomanias, is what the ancients called a “god,”… A man thinks he wills and chooses, and does not notice that he is already possessed, that his interest has become the master, arrogating all power to itself. Such interests are indeed gods of a kind which, once recognized by the many, gradually form a “church” and gather a herd of believers about them. This we then call an “organization.” It is followed by a disorganizing reaction which aims to drive out the devil…” The conversion into the opposite “… that always threatens when a movement attains to undisputed power offers no solution of the problem, for it is just as blind in its disorganization as it was in its organization.”

The decline of the Church means evolution, and it moves forward of its own accord. Only self-examination dissolves the projections of unconscious gods onto the ideologies that shroud the real personality. The seeds of their solutions begin with those who find meaning in their self-division; and our “bipolar” natures also provide symbolic solutions beyond conscious ingenuity. To think we would “cure” this condition only adds to the conflicts. Jung wrote of today’s misunderstanding of the psyche:

No matter how beautiful and perfect man may believe his reason to be, he can always be certain that it is only one of the possible mental functions, and only covers that one side of the phenomenal world which corresponds to it. But the irrational, that which is not agreeable to reason, rings it about on all sides. And the irrational is likewise a psychological function…”

This is surely the reason we were cursed with the “disease” of spiritual conflict: to explore the meaning and purpose of development; not just as individuals but as contributors to our evolution. Will we seek solutions to the excess energy of unconscious functioning through yet more technology?

The threat of extinction — the greatest power science owns — may force us to come to terms with it sooner rather than later. The development of unspeakable instruments of destruction implies reason and intent. This must be apparent to a psychology devoted to discovering how our minds work; that’s its business — isn’t it? Or maybe the business is part of the problem.

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Nature’s Child: Progress vs. Development

Why hast thou stolen into thyself, thyself?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

It may seem odd in this age of technology that anyone would suggest the idea of regression amid such fast-paced progress as we’ve seen in the last century. But, not only are the two ideas relative, together they form a complementary process in which neither works without the other. Psychological functions are paired in opposites designed to balance each other. Throughout centuries of shifts in conscious development, progress in one area means decline in another. Jung wrote:

The child motif represents not only something that existed in the distant past but… something that exists now… it is not just a vestige but a system functioning in the present whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable… extravagances of the conscious mind. It is in the nature of the conscious mind to concentrate on relatively few contents and to raise them to the highest pitch of clarity. A necessary result and precondition is the exclusion of other contents of consciousness…” which is “… bound to bring about a certain one-sidedness.”

Jung saw the child motif as an aspect of the spirit archetype. As a primordial image, it still functions regardless of our views on science and religion — or, in more general terms, rational and irrational – at a given point in history. Science means progress in the spirit of our times, but it also carries with it a dangerous underside. It’s a flattering image for all who identify with it; but if history is any guide, identification with a single function leads to disaster. Despite our most storied achievements, it remain our Achilles’ heel:

Since the… consciousness of civilized man has been granted an effective instrument for the practical realization of its contents  through the dynamics of the will, there is all the more danger, the more he trains his will, of his getting lost in one-sidedness and deviating further and further from the laws and roots of his being. This means, on the one hand, the possibility of human freedom, but on the other it is a source of endless transgressions against one’s instincts. Accordingly, primitive man, being closer to his instincts, is characterized by a fear of novelty and adherence to tradition.”

But, as progress in one direction means regression in another, a kind of primitive fear still lurks in re-interpreting the religious function as opposed to simply dismissing it as fantasy against the literal truths of science. Obsession with novelty in one sphere compensates the fear of it in another, and though much is admirable in the technical creativity celebrated today, it makes for a perilous illusion of a darker psychic reality.

Erich Neumann’s description of the dissociability of the personality reads like a who’s who of the contemporary individual: ”This betrays itself in many ways… as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity — all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.”

Superstitious beliefs in conscious unity often impede personal awareness, yet multiplied by seven billion the contradictions become evident in conflicting ideologies and the ceaseless speculations of political experts on cable news. Solutions are generally superficial opinions based on immediate causes and effects which have little to do with the wider development of personality suggested by Neumann. The military man may be a man of faith and even a scientist, too — all his knowledge filtered through a subjective philosophy rooted in the pride of personal identification. Jung:

But our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many delightful wish-fulfilments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes.” Nature decrees that the “fore-thinker” owes something back to the unconscious for the fire he stole…

The symptoms of compensation are described, from the progressive point of view, in scarcely flattering terms. Since, to the superficial eye, it looks like a retarding operation, people speak of inertia, backwardness, skepticism, fault-finding, conservatism, timidity, pettiness… But inasmuch as man has, in high degree, the capacity for cutting himself off from his own roots, he may also be swept uncritically to catastrophe by his dangerous one-sidedness.

The older view… realized that progress is only possible Deo concedente [granted by God]… The more differentiated consciousness becomes, the greater the danger of severance from the root condition. Complete severance comes when the Deo concedente is forgotten…  it is an axiom of psychology that when a part of the psyche is split off from consciousness, it is only apparently inactivated; in actual fact it brings about a possession of the personality, with the result that the individual’s aims are falsified in the interest of the split-off part. If, then, the childhood state of the collective unconscious is repressed to the point of exclusion, the unconscious content overwhelms the conscious aim and inhibits, falsifies, even destroys its realization. Viable progress only comes from the cooperation of both.”

As I quoted Jung in another post, the narrow door of inner confrontation is enough to frighten most people away — but how on earth could it be more frightening than the world spectacle confronting us today?



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Science, Religion, and Psychology: A Depth Perspective

At the end of my last post, I referred to what modern science and psychology are selling. For those interested in a more poetic expression, this excerpt begins on page 123 of A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious:

Divided thinking leads at last to conflicting goals:
To the two-way mirrors in the depth of all men’s souls;
Reflecting dual minds in which the opposites prevail
Yet only one can be observed through the conscious veil.
Even in the lofty labs of science this exists
Its subjective basis proven by the physicists:
The uncertain observations Heisenberg asserted
Were the limitations of their minds their thought perverted;
Though even these do not reflect the dark uncertain forms
Imposed by thought’s restriction to objective norms.
The conditions of the soul determine what men seek
The probable statistics are a modern double-speak.
What natural reality makes any sense at all
Without a concept of the purposes inherent in it?
Life would never have arisen on this earthly ball
Without the spirit everywhere apparent in it.
The faithful picture of the world such concepts have defined
Still are psychic products with conditions of their own;
And symbols weave their purpose through the conscious mind
In the secret depth to which itself remains unknown.
The uncertain relativity of modern science –
The deepest of realities the mind has yet discerned –
From the smallest particle to planetary giants
Reflects as well its two-way mirror when the glass is turned.
Such ideas are not conceived as psychic intuition
Though perceived to be the ground reality requires.
Even physics can’t escape the basis of cognition
Revealing inner aspects of the knowledge it acquires.
Through these secrets half-described in man’s imagination
Spirit, too, participates in matter’s dark foundation.                                             Nature’s secrets are elusive as her properties require –
Most of all within the matter of the soul’s desire.
The truths in her images the scientists have won
Lead below the world of things inside a deeper one.
Faust said long ago, “Two souls are dwelling in my breast” –
Now a proven fact the oldest atom will attest.
At the same time as Einstein a Swiss psychologist
Informed objective science of the very thing it missed:
The subjective factor – provable empirically –
Was a psychic analogue for space-time relativity.
This factor hides a deeper law than instruments reveal
For the law of man’s being is a factor he must feel…
Alas two psychic truths are dwelling in his head
Based on opposition like the physicists said.                                                                       “Each is feign to leave its brother,” just as Faust opined;
And one denied the other for the concepts it divined.                                                     The older one — the matrix men’s awareness can’t concede –
Is the very god-likeness their consciousness decreed
As an image of themselves and the wonders they begat
Perverting their own reason as a price for that.
A deeper opposition yet resides within
The partial values in the minds of thinking men:
Like salesmen they construct a future shopping mall
At the same time hoarding weapons to destroy it all…
Men are only objects in these dark imaginings;
Themselves reduced to ciphers in a world of Things.
What man if he had ever drunk from spirit’s well
Could quench his thirst with the technologic brew they sell?
Are the scientific prophets merely profiteers?
What human soul has been enhanced by their inventions?
Strange desires cloud the lens through which this science peers:
The subject of the object now confuses its intentions;
Though men are left to struggle with the same old human fears
As once claimed Eve’s and Adam’s and the snake’s attentions.
No problem is beyond this objective human quest
Except the small subjective one in a man’s own breast;
Yet still all forms of superstition will suffice
To convince him of his distance from his own inner vice.
This same collective border Christianity constructed
Repels a man from seeking what his nature has to say.                                             Though now it’s on the other side of heaven life’s conducted
It has still the same objective to explain the world away                                             And only understand enough to serve the greed created
By the hallowed histories of pious people long since gone;
Driven still by inner forces Nature arbitrated
That science and religion both have turned their backs upon…
For this man to free his mind he must consider things
Quite the opposite the paradigm instilled in him;
For the intellect inflames a man with waxen wings
Soaring far beyond the nature being willed in him.
This will is not his own and not obsessed with other men
But strives below the known to seek a world within;
For the re-creation of an older mystery
And he is only driven there by hard necessity.
He views his thinking through the glass of self-importance;
The wonders he beholds are mystical possessions.
They bewitch and stupefy in mythical accordance
With the ancient laws established by a man’s obsessions.
A man must have a counterweight to these Platonic spheres
Like giant shadows crouched behind his small and modest fears.
He loves these fears too in his own clandestine way:
Such is the bargain struck by men who cannot pray.
He barters spirit-life for dark and fleeting pleasures
To flatter only Image’s obsessive measures.                                                                       But a man who cannot pray must worship nonetheless
The gods of his disorders whom his fantasies confess.
Such are the idols of a space-age mythology
Until recently the ones the heavens once concealed;
Now the orphans of a modern-day psychology
Yet not much less divine and not much more revealed.
For gods have ever issued from this psychic netherland
In any form interpreted to make men understand
That a greater spirit hides within the human mind
Than by science or the intellect will ever be defined.
But the prophets of today are focused on the brain
Able only to connect with what they touch and see.
No man yet has seen a god in the physical domain                                                         Except the demons lurking in the body’s chemistry.
The gods are demons now to this enlightened man
Whose only world consists of what his thought can understand.
The psychic history on which his life is based
By the shining light of Consciousness is now erased.
What was once a sacred sphere by which this man was graced
Has been reduced to symptoms and by chemicals replaced.
What once were ancient deities have now become disease –
Their double-nature no objective science can appease.
How could such a troubled culture now have come about
But that its egotism turned its thinking inside-out?
Denied the things its own spirit thundered long ago
For self-deceptive mysteries its science couldn’t know.
A bi-polar syndrome underlies the Western mind
For these neglected opposites are moving to the fore;
Just as they comprise the nature science has defined
So also do they form the nature scientists ignore.
They force a man inside himself though willed or not;
They urge him to consider things his modern mind forgot.
They sometimes even make him pray though on a thinking level
Not the least discernible from praying to the Devil…

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Spirit and Water

The Hebrew word for the ark, teba, occurs only twice in the Bible: in the flood narrative and in the Book of Exodus, where it refers to the basket in which Jochebed places her son, the infant Moses… In both cases teba has a connection with salvation from waters. It is made of “gopher” wood, a word which does not appear elsewhere in the entire Bible, and is divided into qinnim, a word which always refers to birds’ nests elsewhere…” — Wikipedia

The association of spiritual salvation with water, arks, baskets, gophers, and birds in this biblical context is not so strange as it may appear. In another post, I referred to Brian Greene’s, Elegant Universe. In it, he cited the four dimensions orienting us to physical reality: three in space, “left-right” (say, a street address), “back-forth” (an intersection), “up-down” (a floor number); and time, or “future-past” (my weekly sessions with Dr. Drowse).

Though Einstein demonstrated how time and distance make events relative to the observer in the external world, Jung described the internal conditions of the psyche — with all the qualities of spatial dimensions but in the form of symbolic ideas designed to orient us inwardly. Left-right, back-forth, up-down, future-past are subjective coordinates which make the perception of reality relative. What if I showed up to Dr. Drowze’s office at the wrong time?

The quote from Wikipedia is an example of water’s relation to spirit, and the association of gophers with birds’ nests is striking. It may be readily seen how an ark or basket might represent conscious refuge from the waters of untamed instinctuality; or that a Celestial God was once needed to guide us out of them. But, how does the blind rodent burrowing under the earth connect to the bird soaring above it?

This special instance of biblical symbolism even described both as having the same spiritual function. But, weren’t we in a different stage of development then? Modern culture, whether seen through the eyes of preachers, pundits, or politicians suggests that we may have forgotten that a serpent was also needed to circumscribe the original human condition: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”

In general psychological terms, Jung saw water as a symbol of psychic energy; but in a religious context as spirit — or more specifically, unconscious spirit. Symbolically, a flood or deluge is a powerful influx of unconscious energy, and it’s natural that consciousness would seek refuge from a force more powerful than itself. Jung’s empirical studies, however, show a different picture than the traditional one of a “Spirit” from above:

… while from below comes everything that is sordid and worthless. For people who think in this way, spirit means the highest freedom, a soaring over the depths, deliverance from the prison of the cthonic world, and hence a refuge… But water is earthly and tangible, it is also the fluid of the instinct-driven body, blood and the flowing of blood, the odour of the beast, carnality heavy with passion.” Faust echoed civilized man’s recurrent plea, “Wherefore the stream so soon run dry and I again thus thirsting lie?” Jung elaborated it:

The unconscious… reaches down from the daylight of mentally and morally lucid consciousness into the nervous system that for ages has been known as the “sympathetic.” This does not govern perception and muscular activity like the cerebrospinal system, and thus control the environment; but, though functioning without sense organs, it maintains the balance of life…” Hmm. Dr. Drowse didn’t say anything about that.

“In this sense it is an extremely collective system, the operative basis of all participation mystique, whereas the cerebrospinal function reaches its high point in separating off the specific qualities of the ego, and only apprehends surfaces and externals — always through the medium of space. It experiences everything as an outside, whereas the sympathetic system experiences everything as an inside.” Joseph Campbell described the snake as a symbol of the cerebrospinal system, connecting it to consciousness. Jung:

The unconscious is commonly regarded as… a fragment of our most personal and intimate life — something like what the Bible calls the “heart” and considers the source of all evil thoughts. In the… heart dwell the wicked blood-spirits, swift anger and spiritual weakness. This is how the unconscious looks… from the conscious side. But consciousness appears to be… an affair of the cerebrum, which sees everything separately and in isolation, and therefore sees the unconscious in this way too... Hence it is believed that anyone who descends into the unconscious gets into a suffocating atmosphere of egocentric subjectivity…” Dr. Drowse showed me that in his diagnostics manual.

True, whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see… his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation… This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people…” I think Dr. Drowse forgot that part.

“The meeting with oneself is… a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well… For what comes after the door is… a boundless expanse of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad. It’s the world of water, where all life floats in suspension; where the realm of the sympathetic nervous system, the soul of everything living begins…” 

Well, I can tell you that this confrontation is no easy sell today, and I’m no salesman. But, you can peek behind the curtain of what modern science and psychology is selling you — right here.

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The Image of the Black Dot

In my last post, I discussed the black dot, or circle, and the role it played in mathematician John Nash’s psychosis, along with Hippolytus’ description of the Gnostic idea of the indivisible point. For those who may be interested, I’d like to share my personal experience of it:

Around age three, I dreamed I was tucked up inside the head of an adult body, peering out through the eyes. The little me watched as the body walked by itself, away from town. At the outskirts, my eyes were drawn to a vacant lot on the left, the last sign of civilization before a wild and forbidding mountainous terrain stretched out before me. It had no man-made structure on it but was filled with a great mound of excrement, and flies began gravitating to it.

More flies swarmed, covering it completely. Their cumulative buzzing created a deep, reverberating hum (scroll the comments to Sue Dreamwalker) which fixed my vision on the horizon. Suspended like a distant planet just above it hung a small black dot, barely visible through the trees. I was mesmerized by it as the hum pulsed in me.

Suddenly, it was right before me, blanketing my vision. Frightening, paradoxical feelings about time and eternity, life and death, and the incomprehensible nature of existence seized me. I was struck by how small it was at first and how large and overwhelming it suddenly became.

Jung called it a complexio oppositorum: it contained the opposites within it. For years, I was almost too afraid to think about it for the dread it evoked. Like a cautious animal, afraid yet curious, I circled around it in my mind, drawn to its ineffable mystery. Its dizzying complexity scared me, filled me with awe; but beyond its stark paradox, I was unable to discern any personal meaning in it.

It hung there through the years; not only on the horizon of my childhood but on the horizon of my future as well. After a divorce at thirty-five, I sank into a profound depth as black and unconscious as my dream prescribed in the dawn of my awareness…

Years of evasion found me with other men lost in the same transition. We drank together, commiserated, carped, and criticized; none of us any more aware of a mid-life change than the so-called “crisis” of aging men trying to retrieve a lost youth via sports cars and younger women.

The deeper psychological purpose of mid-life regression, though, is a symbolic journey through history: an unconscious description of the psychic reality beneath the social one which governs the first half of life. Fantasies of death and finality swept over me in a sea of emotion. Like my youthful dream, I felt trapped inside my head, isolated and alone. My adult body was walking itself away from town.

One night, a voice in my head whispered to me as I was dozing off, “You’re going down.” Suddenly, the black dot was upon me. Its irresistible force pinned me to the bed. Such a tension gripped me that it took all my might to remember where I was and observe what was happening in me. That state persisted through the night and into the next day, and I went to work driven by an exhausted attempt to release myself from it.

For weeks, the image of the black dot persisted. I knew intuitively that my efforts hinged on the few Jung books I’d puzzled over years before and had begun to read again. Slowly, I set about studying what was going on inside me.

I read of an alchemist in the sixteenth century whose dream depicted that same black dot hanging above the horizon, just as I’d seen it in mine: the black sun of alchemy, the dark core of inner illumination. I read as many ideas as I could find from those driven to record the mysteries of the same process I was in.

The Hebrew conception of Adam as the Original Man, the Gnostic idea of the indivisible point, Democritus’ atom, the alchemists’ soul-spark, the big bang, black holes: all contain historical reference points that establish the archetypal context of psychic experience.

It was Jung’s work that precipitated a spiritual experience beyond any collective god-concept. That is the archetype: its conscious insignificance makes it smaller than small, even as its unconscious influence makes it greater than great. To Jung, I will always be grateful for the opportunity he provided in my confusion.

Goethe said it eloquently in Faust: Mephistopheles (Faust’s shadow) discovers Wagner (his intellect) in his laboratory busily working to create life in a tube (!). He succeeds, but the little homunculus in the retort flies out and hovers illuminated above them. Mephistopheles makes plans with it for a great journey; but Wagner is excluded. “And I?” he asks. The little life he thought was his own creation responds:

 ”Well, you                                                                                                                                          Will stay at home, most weighty work to do,                                                                    Open the parchment-sheets, collect                                                                                      Life-elements as the recipes direct.                                                                                        With caution, fitting each to other. Ponder                                                              The What – to solve the How still harder try;                                                                  While through a little piece of world I wander                                                              To find the dot to put upon the i.”

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Science and Psyche: The Paradox of Consciousness

I’m as impressed by science and technology as anyone. Tremendous focus and organization are required to achieve the astounding changes of the last century. Think about it: as a boy, my grandfather saw Indians squatting across the river waiting to trade deer-meat with his father. As a teenager, my father remembers soldiers returning from WWII teaching the town-folk to form lines at the theater to relieve the mob-like clamor at the box-office.

The age of the scientific method has seen the organization and consolidation of consciousness accelerate exponentially. There is, however, a big downside to it: the conscious mind tends to identify with what it’s focused on. When it does, it’s susceptible to possession by contrary unconscious factors. If history teaches us anything, it’s how easily conscious intent is changed into its opposite.

It’s natural to think highly of our achievements, but pride and self-awe are such subtle vulnerabilities that gods (along with a little belief and reflection) were once needed to remind us of their consequences. Consistent with such ideas, Jung described ego-consciousness as only one complex among many in the mind’s constitution, and unconscious complexes influence it beyond perception.

Some years ago, I read The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene: an informative, well-written book which discussed how the universe works compared to the quantum world. Scientists can accurately predict the movements of planets, but on the sub-atomic level, they can’t predict how particles behave (unsettling, I know). They appear in contradictory form — as particles and waves, depending on the type of experiment.

Position and velocity, for instance, can’t be measured at the same time, and the concept of complementarity describes a “duality paradox” where the mode of observation determines the data. Einstein wrote: “We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena…”

In Jung’s collaboration with German physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, they agreed that psychology and physics had something in common: when one thing is viewed, its complement, or opposite, is obscured. Both sciences proved empirically that even under the most rigorous conditions, observation is relative to the psyche.

When a thing becomes consious, it changes according to the way we see it. It’s no longer objective in the sense it was before we became aware of it. As an object of thought, it’s incorporated into the psyche and becomes subjective. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Einstein’s relativity, Jung’s subjective factor: all describe the nature of cognition.

Instruments minimize subjective influences under controlled conditions; though they’re considerably magnified under natural ones. Often more important than the knowledge itself, the psyche prescribes what we see and how we see it. Add to it the egocentric qualities of individual complexes, and you can imagine how difficult it is to observe ourselves with any objectivity.

How we interpret and apply knowledge is as fundamental as its acquisition. The deeper we look, the more perception contrasts with reality, just as the attempt to reconcile general laws of the universe with those of quantum mechanics show.

You might remember A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar: a biography of the mathematician, John Nash. He ostensibly “cured” his schizophrenia through sheer willpower — at least, that’s how the Hollywood movie-version depicted it. The book tells the real story behind the conscious fantasy.

I saw an interview with Nash on PBS, where he was asked to summarize his experiences. He shrugged, as if it made no sense, and said he was left with this image: his “rational thinking had blocked my view of the universe.”

Nash’s psychosis became evident to his wife when she found him busily painting large black circles on the walls in his study. Though it seems bizarre, its symbolic content becomes more comprehensible when viewed in its historical context. The deeper meaning hidden in the black circle which grew so large to Nash that it overwhelmed him, was examined by Jung:

The black dot is an archetypal idea similar to the Greek atom. Jung showed its relation to the Jewish-Christian idea of Adam as a symbol of wholeness, the Original Man. The Greek historian Hippolytus described the Gnostic idea of this indivisible point in the second century A.D.: “This point, being nothing and consisting of nothing, attains a magnitude incomprehensible by thought… this mustard seed which grows into the Kingdom of God.” Physicists’ theories of black holes and the big bang derive from this prototypal image.

Jung described it as the symbol of a profoundly unconscious organizing function which seeks to unify the personality, something like a primitive god-image; it appears during periods of disorientation: the psyche’s response to a dissociated consciousness.

For Nash, it symbolized not only the split condition his rational mind created but also the healing factor which would gradually guide him back over some thirty years to his emotional foundations.

Nash’s proclivities left him with a vulnerability as extreme as his talent. Not all are predisposed to such creative, hard-to-reconcile differences, but his example highlights the increasing value of a science of symbols.

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Archetypal Dreams

Jung saw dreams as objective statements by the psyche about itself. There’s no question they express a different reality than the waking mind sees. Despite claims by certain materialists that they’re residual neuronal activities of a re-charging brain, those who sense meaning in them know they contain information about life they couldn’t otherwise know.

Reflection on a dream unearths a complex web of associations, and moods can change perceptibly even with no understanding. Their compensating role was an early discovery of Jung’s and presupposes an unconscious balancing function aimed at unity or wholeness.

Their apparent personal level is a paradox: beneath it, instinctual patterns of behavior shape the most intimate private needs around the pre-existing forms required for the regulation of development. Who chooses his own growth?

Though Jung outlined the general process, how the personal grows out of the impersonal and the role dreams play in mediating it to consciousness is a deeply subjective mystery. From day-dreams and nightmares to gods and devils, what may appear as fantasy is a ceaseless stream of symbolic creative activity aimed at consolidating the personality for the fulfillment of  its destiny.

“Archetypal” describes our functioning as a species. Historical associations give context to personal conflicts, and primitive images sometimes depict graphic violence and/or sexuality mixed with profound spiritual and philosophical ideas with little or no personal experience behind them: the reason Jung stressed the value of religious symbols — only history provides their reference points.

Since they come from the “old brain”, they often appear disgusting or repulsive. Their organic aspects are a reality modern life will avoid when possible. There are men who can’t bear to see their own children born. When I was a child, men weren’t even allowed in the delivery room. Nature appeases no whim of man in the creation and maintenance of life — including weakness, disease, and death.

Consistent with our earthly natures, biological urges reflect the dark regions of prehistoric religious functions. We worry little about such living paradoxes in the frenzied pace of life today, though unconscious diversions contribute to our anxieties. By the middle years, we may feel such dreams as frightening, hostile, even as an “alien will”.

They may appear startling and bizarre. As a teen, I dreamed of a naked woman, arms open, raised as if to a deity, an erect penis protruding between her breasts. I thought I was crazy. Only much later did I read Erich Neumann’s assessment: the developing masculine principle was emerging from the unconscious matrix of the creative feminine.

Their depth is as philosophically sophisticated as it is primitive. Contemplation leads far beyond the brute world they often portray: analogies which embrace the whole of man’s development, and they change shape as quickly as thought pursues them. There’s no doubt they’re inherited ways of perception for anyone willing to inspect them.

Jung and Neumann, along with many others, have documented them — much to the chagrin of modern science: tangible proof that we’re conditioned by factors extending back to the animal world, inconceivable without an orientation to history.

Jung established a comparative model to interpret this history. All of science depends on its symbols but lacks the knowledge to understand them. I read of a team of anthropologists studying cave paintings in France. They wasted untold resources searching out aboriginal peoples who would tell them what the symbols meant. This is backwards, for the knowledge was never conscious. As my last post implies: what do such assumptions say about the scientific intellect?

Who’s ever had an archetypal dream will sense its profundity — if he/she doesn’t dismiss it as too foreign and incomprehensible for reflection. Emotion dictates, however, that it can never be completely repressed. Of course, it is foreign; its perspective is far from the contemporary one. The more convinced one is of an artificial truth, the more frightening nature’s images appear. Archetypal dreams have very different notions of life than our conscious appraisals.

While going through the youthful process of separating from home, I had a dream in which a voice stated: “I am my father, my father is me.” I was having conflicts with my father, and it helped me to understand the projections we were trading — but I had no knowledge at the time that it echoed almost verbatim a religious idea straight out of Egyptian mythology.

Such dreams are of a still-living psychic history — regardless of what we think or believe. The emotions they evoke feel divine, leading some to believe that God speaks directly through them. They’re almost always misinterpreted by those anchored in certainty, ego-security, and fear of the unknown. They derive from an unconscious authority outside any culture or belief and tend to isolate and confuse those who experience them — however…

If you trust collective assumptions to make moral decisions for you; if you trust the direction culture is taking to forge a sane future for your children, then beware these unsettling voices in the stillness of your soul — they mean inner conflict. If exposed to enough of them that you question the culture you live in – you may be deranged.

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A Brief History of Consciousness

We may take consciousness for granted today, but historically, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. The biblical Word is intimately linked to it by modern science as well as philosophy and religion, and new studies describe dual functions of evolution on one hand and highly developed defense-mechanisms against it on the other.

Before nature’s novel experiment in self-recognition, primates were primarily outfitted for eating, excreting, and competing mainly for the purposes of coitus. This may explain Congress, but what of the deeper concerns of  regular humans? Evolutionary psychology provides clues to this mystery:

In Homo Antithesus, around three million years ago, an evolving capacity to associate past experiences formed a psychic complex known as consciousness, or in academia as the “God Complex”. Its dwarf state enabled our ancestors to think backward along a chain of preceding events. The capacity for memory carried with it a function for weighing possibilities, too, and the forward flow was primitively conceptualized as time — or money, as we know it today.

Thoughts originally appeared as hallucinations in the dawn mind. An inability to differentiate its mental activities from its surroundings merged them with sense perceptions, and the mysteries of its own ideation were perceived as spirit or magic. Early hominids venerated what their bodies needed, and plants and animals were the first objects of worship. 

Even as crude prototypes, thought-obsessions and compulsive object-worship proved more effective for survival than blind instinct. How else would the new species maintain the delicate balance of nature beneath the ethereal Word which was destined to subdue it (with the possible exceptions of the weather, chance, accident, and the unforeseeable consequences of its every action)? Though now classified as symptoms of mental derangement in the under-privileged, these functional dissociations are the building-blocks of culture…

As in a mirror, unconscious images were reflected back in real-time. So vivid were they through the medium of sense perception, the world appeared only as Concrete Reality. Of course, it was real in one sense yet not in another, for the new complex was still fixed on physical survival: image merged with object as in a dream.

About a half a million years ago, the intra-psychic effects of sense images began to reflect identifications beyond Concrete Reality: on a more psychological level of hallucination called spirit-possession. An unstable ego’s resistance to change bid it cling to the self-flattering aspects of the new function, and these gradually assumed fantastic proportion in correlation to its fear of development. This was unavoidable:

Nature combined intuition and an inflated sense of self to foster and protect the new complex; for, without the dual functions of support and opposition inherent in its purposes, the nascent individual identity so vital to its evolution would never gain the strength to confront the reality it saw in all of nature but denied in itself. 

In compensation for the future-dread instilled by its gift of foresight, ego came to sense its possession as if divinely ordained. In its identity with the “upward” symbols of a “higher” reality above the crotch and belly of instinct, it quickly ballooned far beyond its head and flew directly into the stratosphere…

As a cultural instrument, The Word gained complexity through social exchange; though its subjective nature worked also as a tool for rationalization and a magical flight from the instinct-compulsions it refuted. Its backward thought translated its fears into upside-down collective ideas which only further veiled the subversive effects of its inflated perspective.

Indistinguishable from the causal reasoning demanded by its wish for stability, the forward movement subverted by its social conformity re-surfaced as crude self-interest: a compensation for the group identity it was overly reliant upon. The puffed-up complex mirrored in its religious ideals grew into self-adulation.

Unconscious fealty to a static self-image conceived the tasks of development as having long been accomplished, and it was obstinate to any change beyond the abetment of sensual pleasure. The instinctive demand for personal reflection bogged down in a collective spiritual indolence consumed only with reducing physical effort; mental focus remained tied to the senses. Energies specific to development over-accumulated in proportion to their fears of them and came to be seen as bad things to be avoided.

The repressed urge for development gradually formed into mass projections called Ideologies. Legions fought over their subjective perceptions for centuries, unaware that the psychic realities of subject and object were bound up in the contagion of collective hallucination divided by as many heads as reacted to them. This grudgingly allowed the random awareness of a few until their more curious hit on observation and experiment to test assumption. This partially lifted the curtain of perception — but only in the external world.

Fueled by its fascination with objectivity and the wish for certainty, the new science inspected everything but the self-awe which had so long plagued it. Those who funded it quickly saw the worth in exploiting it and set about the mass manufacture of commercial fascination with objects. This dissolved the old holographic sky-deities and was seen as further proof of the fantastic self-images they’d historically convinced themselves of: the only thing left unexamined. The new form of self-aggrandizement was perceived as a great advancement; though it described as much regress as progress.

The regressions only reinforced the original biological orientation, and the new science could no more reconcile unconscious purpose to conscious objective than its ancestors. In response to the old upside-down religious views, it turned perception inside-out.

Hypnotized by the new subjective objectivity, the instinctive symbols which directed it remained as undifferentiated as the fantastic sky-deities — only re-emerged in a new object-worship. 

Read a poetic example of how these symbols manifest in modern dreams.

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The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: A Pre-Apocalyptic Parable

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”  – Genesis 3:5

As outdated as it may seem, that old saw remains as penetrating and powerful a paradigm today as it did in — well, say 1952, when The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet boasted the bounties of post-war technological advancements. At its core is a psychological truth so foreign to modern sensibilities that few relate to it beyond the centuries-old double-speak of church rhetoric.

Weighed against the dreaming mind that theorized that long-thwarted thimble of theosophical thought, the new slumber of subliminal salesmanship spilling out its unconscious spirit-superstitions through today’s media is but the last fast, fleeting gasp of the red-dwarf Star of Bethlehem on a high cosmic wind. There’s more history in it, though, than meets the naked eye — and by naked, I mean Ozzie and Harriet hiding their bodies behind the fifties fig leaves of Frigidaires, Fords, and family life in the modern version of paradise.

Old-time religion saw the biblical event not just as sin but as the Sin. So, how did Ozzie and Harriet feign the figurative fruit of that fateful Tree on the new level of media-worship — without the guilt? Today’s values would suggest something hidden in it which evaded avid T.V. audiences of the fifties — just as it did their near ancestors: believers who felt the guilt but couldn’t believe in the reasons for it through the dense cloud of participation mystique.

The new myth states that a strangely sapient snake-oil salesman enticed Ozzie and Harriet into the latest Original Sin. Since the mere taste of a thing in no way implies its assimilation, the “knowing” of right and wrong proved to be more a blind fascination with novelty. Like their progenitors, they were subject to a higher power which worked beyond their will (so far beyond, it was conceived as coming from outer space). But, the real spokesman for the new candied fruit was the lowly but lordly loudspeaker of The Greatest Show on Earth — a once-comedic, Lucifer-like parody, now the same but subtler barker for the New Era of Ego…

In the old myth, God justly punished man for instinctively following that fateful function for self-aggrandizement by condemning him to reflect on the nature He’d given him; for it carried with it greater consequences than could be divined without conscious devotion to higher purposes. Subsequent events, however, revealed it to be a more dire warning of what lay ahead: the dual and ambiguous nature of consciousness.

Now as then, all co-exist in the new Media Garden: a euphemistic refuge from the chaotic, instinctual world of unconscious animal functions and other such irrational unknowns as may prompt us to treat the earth as our own God-given vacation-spot to be seized upon during brief respites from our primary occupations of destroying its pristine beauty, along with ourselves and as many others of the creatures of our dominion as we deem needful (and for fun and sport, too), for — our entertainment: our only escape from the intolerable guilt that lies furtive and frenzied in that fantastic fruit.

God (and Billy Graham, too; for, many were convinced that God spoke through Billy, which he did, but not in the way most believed) even strolled through their garden in the dim twilight; though this served mainly to repress the feared sub-nature He’d created in a majestic matrix of diversity and death for all living things to evolve and not just the one that fit the fancies of the small, self-serving ciphers who saw themselves as if outside it through their identification with their extraterrestrial creator.

Paradoxically, it was all the little Billy Grahams who gave them tacit permission to set about the methodical, man-made miracle of undoing everything God had so painstakingly prepared for them. Creating a vastly inferior product from something much greater is the lowest form of creation; and as a species, it’s the best we’ve managed through our compensations up to this point…

As long as the Nelson family followed the one rule, which Billy was very insistent on, of tasting the guilt but not assimilating it, everything was business as usual; as it was in the first garden — except for the exponentially increased killing power of the new technology. They still did what higher powers told them to — like animals would if they were subject to instincts. The fact that Billy was so insistent on just the one prohibition keeps with the old prescription that it was not just by chance that they went straight to the new candied fruit and were thereupon hypnotized by it.

Both gardens describe mental conditions shared by all. In the old one, even the serpent shared the gift of speech — a peculiarly human function which would seem to separate us from the lower orders, though as a more genuine form of relation vis-a-vis animals, or even bacteria for that matter, it remains debatable.

That the first serpent had speech, too, may appear confusing, because primary sources state that the Word was a divine attribute — even that it was God. It implies that one of the lowest forms on the scale of evolution also had the gift of divinity (the guilt of Billy Graham and the carnival barker) — that it was in fact, another aspect of The Creator.

The deceptive cunning (otherwise known as the projection of ego-qualities onto Nature) symbolized in these two oddly-matched deity-figures so fascinated and confused the rudely developed hominids who could not but worship them, few could distinguish between them.

The function of guilt could not be seen without its reflection. Where did it go?

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Instinct in the Human Animal

Austrian ethologist (animal behaviorist, different from the human ego-version), Konrad Lorenz, was of a class of empiricists whose integrity stood out in the field of observational science. His book, On Aggression, was a model in his discipline. His dedication to understanding nature equaled his love of animals, and his book was a tribute to both.

One study he recounted was an experiment by Wallace Craig on the effects of loneliness in the blonde ring dove. He separated a male in a cage to see which objects might elicit courtship activities when deprived of a female:

After several days he was ready to “court a white dove which he had previously ignored. A few days later he was bowing and cooing to a stuffed pigeon, later still to a rolled-up cloth, and finally, after weeks of solitary confinement, he directed his courtship to the empty corner of his boxed cage where the convergence of the straight lines offered at least an optical fixation point.”

Lorenz explained that the inner threshold of release sinks in proportion to the lack of external stimuli. Instinct regulates specific energies according to natural imperatives. Lacking the specific object of its intent, the energy is expended on the closest available analogy to it.

Many have difficulty admitting that humans are subject to the same instincts as the rest of the animal kingdom, though anyone seeking company in a bar can relate to the dove in the cage. It seems “the girls all look prettier at closing time.” But, whether we’re talking about birds, bars, babies, or bibles, similar functions are at work. That’s just the body, though, right? God gave it to us (only once-removed from His image) not only to tempt us but to: “Be fruitful and multiply… and subdue the earth…” However haughtily science may deride religious belief, it still operates on that very assumption.

Conversely, we’ve long been dangerously over-populated, and an unconscious science has also devised quick and terrible remedies for it when nature deems it no longer sustainable. Aims differ according to higher needs, and biological impulses contain the seeds of psychic functions on higher levels.

Lorenz quoted from the witch’s kitchen scene in Faust where Mephistopheles proffers the potion which will enable Faust to fall in love: “With this drink in your body, soon you’ll greet/A Helena in every girl you meet.” — an example of the mythic complexities of the sexual instinct in a conscious animal.

Jung showed that the gulf between the natural intent of an unconscious function and its conscious fulfillment is compensated by longing — libido, his term for psychic energy, from the Latin, lust or desire. He showed in his, Symbols of Transformation, how the energy originally arising from the sexual instinct is converted into higher cultural aims through symbolic ritual.

But, he also argued that rational concepts can’t replace living experience: the value of symbol and ritual. He compared it with the knowledge of a disease as opposed to having it. History shows, too, that even the most ardent believers experience the doubt and conflict which fill the divide between a function’s natural intent and conscious ideas about it — a process of discovery none deny except they be trapped in the past.

Like the dove’s courtship to the rolled-up cloth, an instinctual need must be acted out in some form. If consciousness deviates too far from it, its energy is expended in compensating activities: exaggerations, compulsions, obsessions, “isms”, and all the rest of the litany of modern psychic conflict.

Compare Wallace Craig’s observations with the changes reflected in today’s shift from theology to science to technology to media diversion. Like the dove in the cage, Jung showed that the religious function can’t be deprived of its energy even where there’s no conscious outlet. It re-appears in substitute forms which resemble the original intent but don’t satisfy it.

Even when we profess spiritual beliefs, however sincerely, we have difficulty recognizing that we also identify with them; and in the identity, we worship the belief through its object. An unconscious opposition then creates unintended consequences designed to re-direct it — like the unconscious effects of the creation/destruction problem on science and religion.

It’s difficult enough to reconcile any ideal with a psychic reality, however truly believed in — how much more so when one has forfeited the spiritual reflection intended to inform it? Inner responsibility is compensated by an extraverted group-think as contradictory as it is unconscious.

The dizzying complexity of information today is indigestible without the feeling-values needed to orient and organize it. Science and technology feed commercial innovation, and a deceptive media markets it to keep us from reflecting on what we’re doing; if we can be induced to identify with things, we’ll need more and more of them to fill the psychic void. We sit staring at “the empty corner… “

Jung demonstrated that the only faculty that makes sense or meaning of the world is the reflective instinct; that its religious and philosophical nature is a reality and will not be altered: an individual function that no group possesses but is possessed by through identification.

Unconscious conflicts, however, produce symptoms. They appear in relief in the individual, but also reflect cultural undercurrents. To a rational, scientific psychology which has rejected the study of religion as psychic experience, symptoms mean “disease”. A simple animal analogy can’t tell us how doves feel, but we could learn a lot more about stuffed pigeons with a little knowledge and reflection.

Read more on the symbolic aspects of instinct.


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Philip Wylie: An Essay On Morals

Philip Wylie was a preacher’s son; mainly, a fiction writer in the 40′s and 50′s. His keen intellect tackled the controversies of his day through the characters in his novels. He was self-educated in that he had no degree, though he’d studied physics and psychology at Cal State and Princeton, “beyond the point at which doctorates are given.” He was a critical thinker in pursuit of subjective truth. 

I stumbled onto An Essay on Morals in high school. It was dedicated to C. G. Jung’s psychology, the conceptual underpinnings of Mr. Wylie’s philosophy. His social critique became a guiding thread in my own search for a subjective truth. These are some of his ideas:

“What shall we do?” he asked, concerned for the deepening psychic split he saw reflected in the conflict between science and religion. He described its resolution as an inner search: “The answer for the individual is clear. Through the use of his conscience, and with insight into natural law, he can extend his awareness as far as he will.

“To be conscious of the instincts and conscious in the instinctual sense is his chief function. Learning psychological law and meditating it in the intellect is of little avail. It must be applied by the man to every thought and notion, dream, fantasy, memory and motive. The illumination that ensues takes the form of inward experience, of heightened consciousness, of the fulfillment of the newly educated mind through performance.”

He explored the possibilities of a society oriented to understanding its nature in the interest of collective consciousness and not just for the benefit of a few: “I think… education could profit if it were to embark upon the serious, subjective instruction of wisdom in the order man has learned it. Anthropology provides the proper schedule for subjective study by the child.”

These are things mature, intelligent beings ponder when they envision their children’s futures. When did you last hear a politician or preacher express such ideas? Very different notions of profit drive today’s leaders.

“The great advantage of the deep, inner realization that man is an animal lies in the fact that it reveals the amount of work and effort he must expend to accomplish his good purposes — to use his virtues creatively and his destructive impulses for the destruction of that which impedes his consciousness, beginning with his ego. The very acceptance of our animal nature and origin and state is, in itself, the biggest blow to the ego. We have imagined that, as super-beasts, as animals with souls, or animals made superior with reason, there ought to be for us a quick and handy way to personal perfection and the achievement of Heaven on Earth. But if we know we are animals, we see how we must evolve, and that the more conscious we make ourselves, the sooner shall we evolve.”

He saw exposing the myth of racial purity as basic to a modern education in a global community: “… national and racial prejudice is founded upon ignorance and fear… he is afraid of other races because he is afraid of himself.

“…to protect himself from the knowledge of his constant panic, he develops an arrogance of race… and nations. This, he passes on to his son, generation after generation…  its attending facts ought to be taught to the ten year old, and not just in college to a few candidates for philosophical doctorates.

“Next on the public curriculum should come that significant finding about man which next occurred in history: the discovery of the unconscious mind… The home and the schools of an animal that knows its universal kinship with beasts will be ready to receive the ideas. Sex symbols, totems, tabus… all the hidden, ageless patterns and data of sex should be taught so they are incorporated in the common mind and the common behavior.

“Society by then would be sufficiently conscious… productive of responsible individuals, and sufficiently understanding of its own instincts, to govern itself on a world basis and maintain at the same time, peace and liberty. Half of the ill — the psychosomatics — would heal. Prisons and asylums would empty. Common knowledge of psychology would supplant the shortage of psychiatrists. These gentlemen bemoan the incidence of neurosis and madness today. The idea that their science could become the property of home and school would irritate and maybe amuse them: they are haughtily learned.” (Whether they bemoan it as much as exploit it today is another question.)

Is it just another ideal in our search for meaning? Maybe, but it may also be more realistic than any we’ve so far conceived; one that would incorporate the highest achievements of man through education. The subjective complement to objective knowledge, our psychic history, however, is still buried deep in an unconscious religious heritage, far below scientific inquiry, now to peer back at us through fractured ideological and political interests. Only the conflicts and prejudices of the past remain; that we never absorbed its wisdom is plain. 

Wylie saw Jung’s model as a way to heal the schizophrenic effects of ideological differences though attention to our own natures; that we study ourselves as ardently as we study objects. Self-study indicates that we value who we are. That subjective “truth” is, in a scientific age, still defined largely by ideology and ego reflects an undeveloped soul (Russian philosopher, Gurdjieff, described it in the corporate businessman of the 1950′s as a “small, deformed thing”). Why would we give attention to something we don’t value?

As Wylie suggested, the recovery of the soul begins in the confrontation with ego. A recent shift in values was all that was needed to strip the bright veil of Christian ego-worship and expose its underside. The new spiritual authority is now the naked god of technological materialism. Sadly, for the modern scientific world: “… meditating it in the intellect is of little avail.”

How can we be educated in a world where competing ideological interests seek only to capitalize on our lack of development? How do we recover the subject in a world of objects?

Don’t read here if you’re not concerned about the future.

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