Instinct, Reason, and the Nature of Awareness

If he sees the world as I see it — a world of men… acting in national concerts, and privately, by instinct — a world of men who rationalize what they do so that it will seem holy, or noble… or a personal evidence of “righteousness” — a world of men who possess sudden and enormous physical strength but hardly more sense than apes — and if this spectacle afflicts the days and hours of the reader with as much misgiving and anxiety as I have suffered from it, and if he finds in himself no extricability of his spirit from the general predicament, he will spend much time and effort and a great deal of thought in a search for a solution or resolution of his subjective quandary.”  — Philip Wylie, An Essay on Morals, 1947.

I recently wrote a post on Philip Wylie’s ideas about education. For those who are interested, I’d like to share his review of the nature of awareness according to Jung’s psychology:

“Awareness is the instinct of the Instincts — their awareness of themselves and of the material world.

“It has evolved.

“Its nature is animal, as is man’s. He has merely abused the definition of “animal” to aggrandize notions of his soul and intellect.

“Man not only acts out his instincts, like all beasts, but puts them in the form of legends and identifies with the legends, so that he says, not, “Instinct compelled me,” but, “Thor bade me,”  “Jehovah forbade me,”… and so on.

“As man evolved, so did his legendry, from the most primitive worship of the sun to the most abstract theology of this day.

“A particular form of awareness took place when, using time to settle a conflict of his instincts, man noticed the time-user: himself.

“The pride he invests in that notice — his arrogant effort to fool and flatter himself — is his ego. It is a temporal phenomenon which seeks to gratify the immediate wishes for pleasure and to put off or to conceal past and future pain as much as present pain. It is vanity. Individuals pool pride to make the egos of their every group, organization, state, society, and current historical age.

“The egoist not only refuses to recognize instincts because they are “animal” in nature and invents gods to hide that fact, but in godlessness he also owns an arrogance which he attributes to the “superiority” of his logic or the sciences. Every egoist, religious or atheistic, has therefore lost touch with his instincts; they operate without his consciousness, or with his consciousness impaired by religious descriptions of instinct which, being guessed at and arranged in part to abet vanity, do not coincide with truth… he is forced to rationalize his behavior — to give intellectual, or institutional, or emotional “reasons” in explanation of blindly instinctual activity.

“Instinct operates according to its own thermodynamics and laws of motion. Its energy is never lost but only transmuted. Its inertia is such that it may keep a group of men moving in one way for generations, until a new fact or another instinctual force collides with it. For every fraction of instinct in conscious use, there is an equal and opposite amount in the unconscious mind. Thus the use of an instinctual principle by the ego sets up its opposite liability…

“The instincts in the unconscious mind, and all that the conscious mind is aware of, together with the material repressed by the individual, form the subjective equivalent of all our objective knowledge and identifications — and more… since this psychic nexus contains not only the entire past of consciousness but the basis, the… rudiments, of future development.

“As the individual understands these ideas, he… experiences a continually new and expanding orientation of himself with other minds and the objective world. He does not merely predicate, but inwardly perceives the balance of instinctual urges.

“His best means to this… is his conscience — that organ of instinct which gives him the elective opportunity to deal with every subjective fact as honestly as he deals with objectivity in science.

“And he will find that his personality is able to identify instincts by various methods of perception: logic, the values which provide him with feelings, and intuition. That is, he may weigh up the idea that arises from an instinctual urge, or the feeling, or a series of insights, which have used the combined functions of his brain.

“Because articulate man has… long translated instinct as legend, it… takes the form of archetypes — images which represent fragments of the life-urge… heroes, demons, and gods. They appear also in dreams… Symbols, too, which appear in fantasies, in dreams, in primitive art are archetypal and represent the same effort to… describe instinct to the consciousness; symbols are deeply germane to the species because they began before there was any terminology fit for the discussion of such prodigious impulses, such conflicts… as early man experienced. Trees, snakes, rivers, crosses, are such primeval metaphors… the plots of the legends are archetypal: the modern businessman dreams stories that were told around campfires half a million years ago with the ancient purpose of reminding his ego of a particular instinctual pattern…

“Instinct alone has been acting through the evolving life of our planet for a billion years — without verbalization. Words are clumsy to describe it…”

Time (and instinct) have confirmed Mr. Wylie’s intuitions sixty-so years ago. Words may clumsily describe it, but the images of ideological conflict today are vivid.

2 Comments

Filed under Psychology

2 Responses to Instinct, Reason, and the Nature of Awareness

  1. tosgold

    Come on, Stop!

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