Tag Archives: Erich Neumann’s The Origins And History Of Consciousness

The Spirit of the Times

Jung’s model of the psyche was a basic one with an immense body of empirical material behind it. It often requires going back to fundamentals to re-think the misconceptions he strove to clarify. Even more so today than in his time, an object-focused perspective has difficulty connecting with the subjective nature of knowledge he advanced.

The discoveries of depth psychology: our animalness, our bisexuality, and the inherently religious character of the psyche — all of which knowledge is supported by the respective disciplines — are only loose, dissociated facts until we can incorporate them into a meaningful whole. Today’s specialized sciences are so exclusive that it’s easy to lose sight of the psychological implications of all our knowledge. One of the tasks of psychology is to give our search a human direction.

What Jung saw as scientific materialism in the twentieth century — a counter-swing away from the Church toward natural inquiry — only gains momentum into the new millennium as commercial interests attempt to enhance and exploit our fascination with things and technology in ever more deceptive ways.

Just as an unconscious worldly spirit worked through alchemy to balance an otherworldly religious perspective and guide it back toward earthly reality, the new viewpoint swings toward the opposite extreme. Symbolic disorders have a spiritual aspect, though more often than not treated with medications — projections which, if not in theory at least in practice, are designed to relieve us of our spiritual confusion. What were once religious problems between man, god, and nature are now conflicts between man, his culture, and his own nature. 

A neglected soul imparts little wisdom to an intellect bound to the senses, and the universal mysteries once projected into religious ideas have fallen back into the personal psyche. As Jung showed, consciousness can in no way contend with such powerful instinctual forces solely on its own devices. Though we would be superhuman, animal tendencies yet make us inhuman, and we treat others as such without knowing it.

Jung saw the image of man as being pre-determined. Just as every seed contains its future form, each is compelled toward what nature intended it to be. From the very dawn of self-consciousness symbolized in the story of Eden through our evolution into civilized societies, natural instinctive processes have guided our development. The idea of being “made in the image of God” was a symbolic intuition of it, intended to carry forward that distant seed of reflection. 

Psychologically, the energy needed to produce consciousness is generated by unconscious conflicts between contending stages of development. Every child is outfitted with the forms corresponding to their progression. On a deeper level than parental instruction, these archetypes support and prepare the developing mind and push it through its evolutionary history into the contemporary stage — or thereabout.

The process of becoming self-aware condensed in the story of Eden was felt as disobedience (or opposition) to the law of unconscious wholeness. It reflected a capacity for choice, for weighing possibilities beyond animal instinct. As it grew, it gradually split the psyche into two separate systems. As the myth says, it was initiated not by a god but by the conflicts of conscious choice amid opposing impulses symbolized by the snake. It requires an earthly spiritual function to mediate instinct in a split mind, and all choice is relative to it. Images of space and other worlds still describe our dissociation from nature’s inner reality.

As we evolve, we identify with certain functions which signal new stages of development. New forms supersede older ones, though the old functions don’t disappear. The original Adam (consciousness) who emerged from the blind world of nature constitutes a profound spiritual conflict — one we can no more outgrow than the mind can outgrow the body.

The soul as mediator of spirit, of instinct, in its consciously developed form is a religious function which took centuries to define. Though it was a form of consciousness, intellectual understanding wasn’t necessary to connect with it even a century ago. The development of thought has outpaced the older form of awareness, and today we need psychological tools to understand who we are beneath the subjective meanderings of conscious focus.  As we once bowed to God as an image of unity, of unconscious wholeness, so we yield to natural laws.

In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann addressed the uneven psychological development of the modern individual: “This betrays itself in many ways — for example, 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.”

We’re products of nature. Beneath the illusion of conscious unity, we live on in old philosophical assumptions which have passed unexamined from generation to generation: symbols which would define the split in our natures. The scientific materialism of today is too deeply opposed to the symbolic view to facilitate reconciliation. Its truth is in need of its opposite. The door to that opposite was opened by Jung’s comparative method, and we need to swing it wide to contend with the dangerous extremes produced by an unconscious nature.

For an idea of the emotional processes which lead back into the symbolic world of reflection, read more here, or visit Amazon.

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Commercialization and the New Mass Man

“In the course of Western development, the essentially positive process of emancipating the ego… from the tyranny of the unconscious has become negative. It has gone far beyond the division of conscious and unconscious… and has brought about a schism between them; and, just as differentiation and specialization have degenerated into overspecialization, so this development has gone beyond the formation of individual personality and given rise to an atomized individualism.” — Erich Neumann, 1954

So wrote Neumann in, The Origins and History of Consciousness. In Appendix II, Mass Man And The Phenomena of Recollectivization, he elaborated:

Whereas on the one hand we see ever larger groups of overindividualized persons, there are on the other hand ever larger masses of humanity who have detached themselves from the original situation of the primary group… Both these developments tend to lower the significance of the group as a unit of persons consciously or unconsciously bound together, and to exalt the mass as a conglomeration of unrelated individuals.

In a previous post, I discussed The Hidden Persuaders (1960), in which Vance Packard detailed the commercialization of psychology for the exploitation of consumers in the interests of business and industry. This rude use of the lowest levels of self-knowledge has only deepened the schism he and Neumann saw taking hold of contemporary culture many decades ago. The opportunistic cultivation of our recent identification with science and the material world is both cause and effect of deeper processes which only magnify our fixation on things. Neumann:

… while the clan, tribe, or village is as a rule a homogeneous group descended from a common origin, the city, office, or factory, is a mass unit. The growth of these mass units at the cost of the group unit only intensifies the process of alienation from the unconscious. All emotional participations are broken down and… exist only in a narrowly restricted personal sphere.

The “overindividualized person” whose emotional relations are weakened is carefully conditioned to identify feelings with material substitutes, abetting a process as symbolic as it is destructive. It’s a big a payday for mainstream psychology, though, just as it is for the business interests it has come to serve. The more alienated we are, the more we feel the unconscious pressures of emotions designed to orient us to an inner reality we can never grasp without bringing them into consciousness.

The unconscious naturally attempts to direct us inwardly (where the problems are centered), and this finds us increasingly obsessed with ourselves; though, with no understanding of its deeper purposes, the self-urge remains stuck in the narrowly personalistic forms described by Neumann and re-appears as an egotistical self-interest.

When the anxieties compensating our self-neglect are misunderstood, we look to the experts. But, few psychologies today speak to why, or as Jung said, “for what purposes” we feel troubled. No less than anyone else caught in the collective spirit of our times are psychologists immune from their effects.

But, don’t tell me they don’t know the problems are emotional; the facade of knowledge needed to compete for consumers precludes them from looking outside the medical paradigm and into the dark, uncertain mirror of psychic images. Though they reflect our deepest natures, symbols don’t make sense to the rational intellect of today.

This literal re-visioning of our world-view by science and technology reinforces the mass emotional manipulation which began in Neumann’s and Packard’s time, and our subjective realities are more and more subverted by media to maintain the unconsciousness which supports commercial interest-groups. But, artificial substitutes offer only illusory satisfaction. Neumann:

As has long been observed, in the place of a group… there now appears a mass unit like the State, a purely nominal structure which, in the manner of a concept, comprises a variety of different things, but does not represent an idea that springs as a central image from a homogeneous group. Romantic attempts to revalue or to reverse this development necessarily result in regressions, because they take no account of its forward tendency and misunderstand its connection with the historically positive evolution of… consciousness…

In our culture there has been a steady… undermining of the psychological foundations of the group which expresses itself in mass-mindedness, in the atomization and conscious internationalization of the individual. One result of this expansion of consciousness is that, regardless of conflicting national ideologies, every modern consciousness is confronted with that of other nations and races and with other cultures, other economic patterns, religions, and systems of value… the original group psychology… becomes relativized and profoundly disturbed…

The global revolution which has seized upon modern man and in whose storm center we find ourselves today has, with its transvaluation of all values, led to a loss of orientation in the part and in the whole, and daily we have new and painful experience of its repercussions in the political life of the collective, as well as in the psychological life of the individual.

This was 1954, and the first generation conditioned by mass commercial media has spawned a new one so immersed in its technology today that it can’t think outside it. This is the new norm to which mainstream psychology would adjust us.

Jung and Neumann have provided the conceptual foundation to connect with nature’s symbolic language. Much intellectual information has been supplied, and yet examples of the poetic state of mind which would allow us to experience the emotions in it are few.

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