Philosophical ideas of what consciousness is have been debated for centuries. Wikipedia quotes Max Velmans and Susan Schneider: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience one of the most familiar and most mysterious aspects of our lives.” True, but we need empirical concepts to move the debate beyond philosophy.
Jung defined consciousness as “… the function or activity which maintains the relation of psychic contents to the ego.” He defined ego as, “… a complex of ideas which constitutes the center of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity.”
His association tests proved ego to be one among a number of complexes which range from dimly perceptible to wholly unconscious. As the central complex of consciousness, it relates only to contents with which it identifies. His concept of projection asserts that complexes of ideas not associated with its identity will appear outside it…
The accidental nature of life presupposes creative functions which correspond to it: instincts designed to anticipate fluid conditions. In another post, I cited Erich Neumann’s description of the “image-symbol”: the instinctual readiness to a given situation which is shaped by personal experience. It originates internally and is as much emotional as sensual.
Immediate awareness, however, is further confined to those images which excite attention: the measure of energy by which instinct compels action. Our initial responses are to images which reflect inner and outer conditions equally.
As physics illustrates, the reality beneath appearance is often counter-intuitive to experience through the senses. Jung showed how the unconscious mediates psychic reality for purposes of development beyond conscious perception.
This example is of the pious priest, Abbe Oegger, taken from a story by Anatole France. Jung wrote that the priest was “… much given to speculative musings particularly in regard to the fate of Judas: whether he was really condemned to everlasting punishment, as the teaching of the Church declares, or whether God pardoned him after all.”
The priest concluded after much reflection that Judas was an indispensable instrument in the attainment of God’s work — still, he had great doubts. In his conflict, he prayed to God to give him a sign of His benevolence.
He felt a touch on his shoulder and was convinced that God had forgiven Judas. He resolved to go out into the world and preach God’s mercy. It signaled a new dimension of his personality; one he helped create by the attention he gave to the problem.
So why, Jung asked, was the priest so concerned with the legend of Judas? “We are told that he went out into the world to preach the gospel of God’s unending mercy. Not long afterwards he left the Catholic Church and became a Swedenborgian. Now we understand his Judas fantasy: he was the Judas who betrayed his Lord. Therefore he had first to assure himself of God’s mercy in order to play the role of Judas undisturbed.
“Oegger’s case throws light on the mechanism of fantasies in general. The conscious fantasy may be woven of mythological or any other material; it should not be taken literally, but must be interpreted according to its meaning. If it is taken too literally it remains unintelligible, and makes one despair of the meaning and purpose of the psychic function. But the case of the Abbe Oegger shows that his doubts and his hopes are only apparently concerned with the historical person of Judas, but in reality revolve around his own personality, which was seeking a way to freedom through the solution of the Judas problem. Conscious fantasies therefore illustrate, through the use of mythological material, certain tendencies in the personality which are either not yet recognized or are recognized no longer.”
Jung wrote that they usually turn around ideas which are incompatible with the conscious attitude “… whose conscious realization meets with the strongest resistances. What would Oegger have said had one told him in confidence that he was preparing himself for the role of Judas? Because he found the damnation of Judas incompatible with God’s goodness, he proceeded to think about this conflict. That is the conscious causal sequence. Hand in hand with this goes the unconscious sequence: because he wanted to be Judas, or had to be Judas, he first made sure of God’s goodness. For him, Judas was the symbol of his own unconscious tendency, and he made use of this symbol to reflect on his own situation — its direct realization would have been too painful for him.”
The priest was thrown back on himself for reasons far beyond his conscious knowledge. The images compelling his attention anticipated what he did. He was Judas in the sense that his unconscious personality was opposed to the collective ideas of God he’d been given.
When we’re able to reverse the mirror of thought through attention and reflection, it allows some of the mystery to appear through it. Which are the facts: hypothesis or experience? This is what separates gods and devils for those who would reflect on it.
The facts of Abbe Oegger’s experiences were precisely as they were when seen through the mirror of reflection. He did relate his problem to Judas, he did leave the Church, he did spread the gospel of God’s unending mercy. These are psychic facts beyond philosophical meanderings about Church doctrine: the subjective facts of a mind which took the meaning of its own existence seriously.
For a contemporary example of how the subjective mind may discover meaning in a world governed by collective notions of objectivity, continue reading.