Consciousness: Breakdown Or Breakthrough?

The reason for this is that humans are disposed to seek comfort and to redress a lost intrapsychic equilibrium using speech-thought, the very technique that created self-accessibility and the resulting predicament. -Zoltan Torey

To Eastern eyes, Western Man might look as though he has gone berserk. Is this too dramatic, given that the word comes from the Norse term for a frenzied warrior who flew into battle either naked or without armor and who was possessed by a godlike, demonic, or perhaps beast-like fury? Surely this wild-eyed picture of a beast-man bears no resemblance to the modern businessman? “If we appear as wolves,” he might respond, “it is only because you are all sheep, mistaking a canine manager for a pack-hunting carnivore!” Each cultural perspective apprehends that something rather dramatic is missing in its counterpart. They both seem to be keeping an “open mind,” but in different senses of that expression. Western man seems to jettison all tradition and culture like an angry adolescent and thus unencumbered he pursues the one stable cultural ideal left: “progress.” Ironically, he looks across the ocean and thinks that Eastern Man is keeping an open mind by maintaining an empty head! Those from the East are much more conservative of culture, but strangely their culture includes some rather anti-cultural elements that foster, in my opinion at least, a de facto war on meta-thought. This looks “empty-headed” instead of laudably receptive to the Westerner, who often discards Eastern mysticism as so much mussy-minded nonsense, while the Easterner marvels at how, though untethered from tradition, Western man nevertheless appears incapable of receptively emptying his cup to taste someone elses’ tea. Perhaps in this case Schopenhauer is right that “every nation ridicules other nations, and all are right.” This notwithstanding, I will uncharacteristically side with Eastern Thought on this matter. Well, sort of. My thesis? Conscious western man is a broken character and we like him that way. I do not mean that he is morally broken in the sense of having no conscience, but rather, that he has sustained considerable moral damage to a character purposefully left in ill-repair. Conscience requires a guiding mythology, the very thing that self-consciousness has made nearly impossible. It is for this reason that Erich Neumann writes that “It seems that the organ of consciousness is still at an early stage of development and relatively unstable.” Konrad Lorenz makes similar remarks:

There is much truth in the parable of the tree of knowledge and its fruit. I want to make an addition to it to make it fit into my picture of Adam: ‘the apple was thoroughly unripe.’ Knowledge, springing form conceptual thought robbed man of the security provided by his well adapted instincts long before it was sufficient to provide him with an equally safe adaptation. Man is–as Arnold Gehlan has so truly said–by nature a jeopardized creature.

Unstable as it may be, I will argue that consciousness is both a breakdown and a breakthrough, that it is highly favorable to the alternative of preliterate mentality, and that the best method for rendering it stable is not to backtrack away from the problem, but instead to plunge further into its murky depths. This journey, however, should not involve jettisoning ancient myths and philosophies wholesale, but instead, it must involve the incorporation of truth and wisdom from these sources in order to repair the character damage that is our detached, ego-consciousness. As Jung and others have noted, the ego fully emerges in adolescence through a differentiation process that naturally wages war on the tradition in which the nascent ego was indoctrinated. Our species is unique in having an extremely prolonged period of dependence in childhood, traditionally while being raised in the society of women, and thus the first tradition that is imprinted is usually matriarchal while the second is patriarchal. Neumann informs us that “All rights characteristic of this period have the purpose of renewing the personality through a night sea journey, when the spiritual or conscious principle conquers the mother dragon, and the tie to the mother and to childhood, and so too the unconscious, is severed.” Just as soon as this tie is severed, however, most cultures have repaired the damage through a rite of passage in which a new tradition, the real mythos of the tribe, is inscribed in the initiates soul. The initiate is “broken” from his past culture, granting his nascent ego enough freedom from its emotional vulnerabilities and dependencies on the mother to do something as seemingly crazy as risking death, while ensuring that this freedom is only exercised for the good of the tribe. Western man simply skips that last step, glorifying the adolescent rebellion as the proper state of the conscious ego, which is thus elevated to cult status. This does little to protect the nascent ego from vulnerability or dependence, necessitating a new adaptation to quell anxiety. Neumann explains the following:

Secondary personalization is now being exploited by Western man in order to devalue the unconscious forces of which he is afraid. The supremacy of the transpersonal, and hence of the unconscious which, psychically speaking, is the seat of transpersonality, is denigrated and defamed. This form of apotropaic defense-magic invariably attempts to explain away and exorcize anything dangerous with a glib ‘nothing but’ or ‘it’s not half so bad as you think.’

Thus modern man has achieved an unprecedented autonomy from the unconscious, but at the cost of both his psychological health and the potential power that these now trivialized unconscious forces could offer him if ordered properly. In many ways our glib scientism is far less accurate than ancient mythological systems, which are viewed today with an unthinking and irrational skepticism instead of a thoughtful agnosticism. Too many of us are satisfied answering questions about how something came to be with the tautologous reply “evolution,” failing to see that we are merely restating the question. “Evolution” didn’t do it, but rather, evolution is it! Speaking of the emergence of language and consciousness, Jaynes reminds us that “emergent evolution is a label that bandages our ignorance.” A very similar strategy for dealing with unconscious powers is sadism: where we assert the primacy of the body and its products over the artificial and conventional world of symbols. This is why we take such joy in cursing, which we do most often in situations where we have no control. Becker tells us that “continual cursing seems to give us tangibility, decisiveness; it brings us back strongly into the world.” Accordingly, if asked why he is infatuated with a certain person, modern man might cavalierly respond, “Oh, Fucking? Layin Pipe? That’s nothing but pair-bonding instincts, oxytocin, and testosterone,” entirely failing to see the question-begging nature of his answer, or the fear and helplessness in his derogation. You see, oxytocin and the like are the infatuation; they do not account for it. Viewing the infatuation as possession by a super-personal deity who similarly possesses every other love-struck being is actually much closer to an answer that simply restating the physical process in question, as it at least provides a description at the macro-scale of human experience instead of simply a reductive description of one link in an ultimately mysterious causal chain. Western man is told that the deep insecurity he feels, the loneliness, the isolation, the “god-hole,” these will all be filled with the grand discoveries of science someday. Fine, but what do we do until then with our poorly-educated conscience? We have no mythology to live by, no stable culture-imprint by which to gauge our own worth, to answer the deep question in life, or to connect the ego with its passions. Worse still, a naive scientism encourages us to reject all traditional avenues to such wisdom, cutting us off from our past and the wisdom of our forefathers. What is really going on, however, is a nihilistic despair that no such wisdom ever did or ever will exist. Schopenhauer, who preempted Nietzsche nearly everywhere, might as well have proclaimed that god was dead, for he knew that Western Man had compromised itself. Preempting Becker, he explains that our unique knowledge of our own death is slightly compensated for by our ability for metaphysics; that this is “the antidote to the certainty of death.” He saw that the youth of his time had lost hope in ever believing with the conviction of their fathers, that the lies and obfuscations of religious and philosophical authority were at fault, and that the result would be a nihilistic sadism:

Thus if with a mature mind and with the appearance of reflection the untenable nature of such doctrines forces itself on him, he has nothing better to put in their place; in fact, he is no longer capable of understanding anything better, and in this way is deprived of the consolation that nature had provided for him as compensation for the certainty of death. In consequence of such a development, we now (1844) see in England the Socialists among the demoralized and corrupted factory workers, and in Germany the young Hegelians among the demoralized and corrupted students, sink to the absolutely physical viewpoint. This leads to the results: Eat and drink, after death there is no more rejoicing, and to this extent can be described as bestiality.

If only people could learn to glean valuable insights from books that are patently false in their claims. It is not always true that a well written book contains much truth, or that a book full of confusion and falsehoods cannot contain something profound. I recently picked up a Christian book that my brother asked me to read and while very disappointed with nearly everything in the book, I couldn’t help but admit that the general pathos was completely true and relevant. Speaking of the “self-made man,” John Eldredge writes the following:

The appellation is usually spoken with a sense of admiration, but really it should be said in the same tones we might use of the dearly departed, or of a man who recently lost an arm–with sadness and regret. What the term really means is “an orphaned man who figured how to master some part of life on his own.”

That is Western Man in a nutshell alright! Predictably, Eldredge sees the solution in a return to ancient culture (or conveniently whatever parts of ancient Hebrew culture he chooses to lift from scripture). Eastern Man similarly shows this reactionary attitude towards our current predicament, looking for an escape from this hole we have dug ourselves into by way of retracing our steps. I would urge us to keep digging until we reach the other side! Man was not meant to be an “individual,” but instead a member of the tribe. He was not meant to figure out how to live or to carry out his findings by himself. However, the damage has been done, so the task now is finding a way to forge these orphans into a society. We have eaten of the Tree and cannot go back to the paradisaical innocence of unthinkingly belonging to a culture and reflexively living out its mythology. It is now the age of the orphans. So how did we arrive here?

Memory is a privilege for us who are born into the last three millenia. It is both an advantage and a predicament, liberation and an imprisonment. Memory is not a part of our biological evolution, as is our capacity to learn habits or simple knowings. It is an off-shoot of consciousness acquired by mankind only a hundred generations ago. It is thus the new environment of modern man. It is one in which we sometimes are like legal aliens waiting for naturalization. The feeling of full franchise and citizenship in that new environment is a quest that is the unique hidden adventure of us all. -Julian Jaynes

Julian Jaynes brilliantly illuminated the emergence of reflective awareness in his analysis of ancient texts, focusing primarily on the earliest versions of Homers “Iliad.” He claimed that these early versions contain no evidence of subjective thought, but instead, whenever someone might be experiencing a novel or threatening situation, “the gods” show up and do the job of deliberating, choosing, and willing. He called this the “bicameral mind.” Self-consciousness is a “breakdown” of this older operating system; one where the dominant right hemisphere issued godlike commands to the habit-managing and always obedient left. This can be compared to McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary,” or Ramachandran’s “apologist” and “revolutionary.” Jaynes claims that the character of Odysseus as he is portrayed in “The Odyssey” is really the first self-conscious character in literature. Odysseus can connive, scheme, and deceive; he can project himself into the future or past. He can even lie to a god! Achilles, on the other hand, is rooted to the present, rooted to a concrete reality that makes room for possession by the gods, but not for pondering or deception. The emergence of self-consciousness, according to Jaynes, resulted from a perfect storm of factors, the most important of which was a rapid mixing of races and cultures likely precipitated by a natural disaster (the eruption of Thera, for instance). Suddenly faced with diverse cultures and languages that had to be lived with and adapted to instead of rejected as barbaric or sub-human, people were forced to lose their unthinking reliance on their own language and cultural imprint or worldview. Homo Sapiens went from a herd animal to a cosmopolitan animal and though both environments were social, the new environment was much more demanding and dangerous. Suddenly it became very important for people to hide their emotions; to become duplicitous. It was this environment that gave birth to Western Man and it is important to see that this process of adapting to a cosmopolitan reality instead of a mono-cultural/tribal reality is still taking place.

Odysseus of the many devices is the hero of the new mentality of how to get along in a ruined and god-weakened world. -Julian Jaynes

Odysseus has always been a favorite character of mine for explaining or describing human freedom and consciousness, mostly because his story shows the “bootstrapped” or “Jerry-rigged” nature of our new mode of thought. He tricks himself by tying his body to his ship so that he may remain safe while having the unique privilege of hearing the song of the Sirens and living to tell about it. This requires an ability to project himself into the future, empathize with what he will likely experience, and then act against his present self in the service of that future self. What an amazing, god-given ability, right? Well, not according to Jonathan Shay.

Shay uses two Homeric characters to illuminate the nature of post-traumatic stress, which he thinks should be instead termed permanent “character damage” resulting from “moral injury.” Though his two books are not the most well written or persuasive, they are nonetheless extraordinarily true. Freud taught that we learn the rules for feeling good about ourselves from our culture. Shay thinks that the social morality of “whats right,” which he calls by its Homeric name ‘themis,’ is “the normal adult’s cloak of safety.” When someone is forced to do something that is against their “character,” or opposed to their themis, the result is moral injury and a broken character. Human beings are meant to go through an initiation right at a critical time in their psycho-sexual development that aggressively imprints the social code in the human soul. In Homeric times (before the emergence of reflective awareness), the “soul,” or seat of emotions and feeling, was not in ones head but in ones abdomen. This “thumos” was viewed as a sort of container that was filled or moved by the words of the gods, which would invariably be emotion-fueled projections of whatever “themis” was imprinted by that culture during initiation in addition to the sum of all other admonitory experience heard during ones lifetime. We still retain this view in childhood, and later when we refer to “speaking from the heart,” or our “gut feelings.” In fact, modern psychiatry still incorporates the term in a host of diagnoses, such as dysthymia and alexithymia. Shay explains that the body codes a moral threat as a physical assault, accordingly mobilizing the fight/flight response. However, I would add that there is a third part of this response: freeze. The possum reflex allows that animal to dissociate from its will-to-live and appear as dead, but I conjecture that the human equivalent is what allows us to dissociate from ourselves and adopt an allocentric (not-egocentric) view of the world. That is, neither the Master or his Emmissary know what to do, and the result is a reflective pause and the collection of information from an objective viewpoint. I wonder how many times in human history a stymied silence has saved a person’s life.

Shay explains that both Achilles and Odysseus are essentially broken characters, as is Ajax. While Achilles goes berserk because his commanding officer violates the Greek themis by stealing his prize, thus dishonoring him, Odysseus was berserk to begin with! Homer tells us that Odysseus’ grandfather, Autolycus, “excelled the world in thievery, that and subtle, shifty oaths…Hermes the ready partner in his crimes.” Odysseus was named by his grandfather Autolycus around the age of puberty after his grandfather nearly gets him killed on a boar hunt. Autolycus’ name means “Lone Wolf” or “The Wolf Himself” and the name that he gives his grandson means “man of hate” or “he who sows trouble,” or simply “hate.” Shay continues: “The alternate name, Ulysses (In Greek, Oulixes), comes from his scar, oule, so he also has the name ‘scar.'” Scholar Nancy Sultan explains that the Greeks saw this as a matter of inheritance and emphasizes that Odysseus descended from Hermes, “the god of thieves, only then to be born the grandson of Autolykos, the one who surpassed all men in the art of thievery.” Erwin Cook proposes that the name ‘Ulysses’ be understood as “He who was permanently scarred in youth.” If Odysseus is suffering from a broken character, which results in a sociopathic mistrust and penchant for spinning tales, perhaps this breakdown of character is precisely what fostered the emergence of self-consciousness. This new-found ability to spin tales infused the world with falsehood, “non-being,” and trickery, but also allowed people to hypothesize, speculate, and eventually turn some of these falsehoods into material realities; to change “non-being” into “being.”

Odysseus, having been re-imprinted with a rather duplicitous and cunning themis, would not find certain actions to be so morally damaging as Achilles or Ajax would, but only because he is already broken! When it comes to PTSD it seems that the more thoroughly “virtuous” you are (the stronger your thumotic imprint), the more broken you become if forced to do “evil.” This is why Ajax and Achilles suffer much more dramatic mental breakdowns. Ajax, being the least “intelligent” or quick-witted, but also likely the most loyal and virtuous, despondently commits suicide in his berserk state. Achilles, whose reflexive aversion to duplicity makes him the antithesis of Odysseus, is mentally more sophisticated that Ajax, but still loses all sense for his own safety or for that of his troops while filled with a lust for revenge. He is also suicidal at times and has to be stopped from cutting his own throat. Odysseus, on the other hand, though sometimes manically tempting fate, is nevertheless in far greater control of himself. That is, he is able to cope with decades of war, privation, natural disasters, and so forth far better than his ethically-encumbered allies! He has stumbled upon what happened to be in that precise historical moment a successful adaptation to his environment; an adaptation that we now call reflective awareness or self-consciousness and that necessarily involves a certain fracturing of character. Instead of being the ever-obedient instrument of the gods, man became capable of wrestling with them! I think that he does this by means of entreaties to other “gods,” so to speak, but this is much different than simply letting “the gods” duke it out on their own. We can now arrange or order our Will by aligning its denizens with or against each other. If the Greeks were right that “character is destiny,” then we have broken Fate and taken the pieces for ourselves.

Shay tells us that “social trust is the expectation that power will be used in accordance with ‘what’s right.'” If themis is violated then the ability for social trust disappears. Oddly, if you never had this social trust to begin with and live in a chaotic, untrustworthy world, you are more “stable” and well-adapted to that environment; you will be less likely to have a psychotic break. Such was the environment after 2000BC when cultures around the Mediterranean were forced to commingle and then merge. Such has it been since. Jaynes was right that the incredibly high incidence of mental illness in modernity betrays the fact that we have only incompletely upgraded to a new operating system; we are running a “Beta version” of Consciousness. This is also why “PTSD,” as it is now called, can imitate nearly any psychiatric disorder: modern consciousness is a form of PTSD! Modern, self-aware humans can slip back into the Bicameral, or “Alpha version,” of consciousness if put under enough stress (see “The Third Man Factor,” this documentary, or look up Michael Persinger’s work). Combat vets who have experienced a psychotic break or berserker state, which they importantly cannot often recall, do manage to describe it with enough consistency for Shay to conclude that in such a state “beast-god and god-beast replaced human identity.” When such a thing happens, the ability for social trust has been destroyed. However, western culture actually glorifies suspicious, wary, broken individuals. We worship the skillful duplicity of poker champions whose detachment and deception should really incite alarm more than praise. Becker reveals this terrifying truth when he tell us that “In Western films the self must above all be silent and self-sufficient, but capable of exploding into brutal murder while maintaining a disarming smile.” Is this not the psychopath; the berserk warrior hiding a frenzied bloodlust behind a tie and a smile? Freud taught us that the ego grows by a dispossession of the child’s own inner world; that “the mechanisms of defense are, after all, par excellence techniques of self-deception,” as Becker puts it. Our very means of socializing children undermines their later ability for social trust! You cannot really trust others if you don’t already trust yourself. This socialization process must be amended, brought into the open, made ironic to the extent that the sting is taken out of the tragically powerful accusation “copycat” or “faker.”

The “Alpha version” of consciousness involved memory having authority over the man, instead of the man having authority over his memory. Bicameral man could remember some powerful admonishment from his father, but he could not recall it at will. He experienced this recollection as an external event; namely a visitation from either his father or a god. It was a sort of third-person-perspective group-think where communication was not intentional or conscious but, just like our “blush response,” unconscious and betraying of our deepest being. You can see this in the older versions of the Iliad, where, for instance, we do not learn about Achilles’ suicidal impulse by his internal feelings, thoughts, or his speaking, but instead, by the empathic understanding of his friend. Do you have to “think” in order to empathize, or does it just come on its own, in a rush of feeling? Well, that used to be consciousness. Think about it, whether you watch your friend blush or you blush yourself, the experience is remarkably similar, and seems to be nearly third-person in orientation. What you are recognizing in your friend’s blush the Greeks would have recognized as possession by a god, but it is important to notice that you have no more control over it than the Greeks did. They all used the same name for the same god (emotion) and this led to a relatively stable way of viewing human volition, that is, until it came into contact with other cultures with other “gods.” When this happens, you either have war, or you have conversion. That is, unless you can develop an operating system better than Alpha. We have done so, but at the cost of making us all homeless or orphaned. How ironic that in the modern world the biggest problem is that there are entirely too many individuals in the world, and yet their biggest problem is somehow having too few people to give each individual the support and family-type-structure that humans need to feel secure and thrive. We simply don’t have a shared themis that would allow each of us to view the other as “another self,” to use Aristotle’s phrase, or if we do, we realize that “another self” means “another broken and lost orphan like me.” It is in the nature of self-consciousness to not trust yourself, to remain skeptical, to resist immediate impulse. You cannot order your Will if you simply trust it and cave to every inclination. However, this paranoia is hardly conducive to social trust or to loving another as if he were “another self,” for that would only amount to him being another system of forces that we have to interpret, organize or buffer ourselves from. How much easier it is to empathize and care about your fellow citizens when they are not individuals, but vehicles for the very same muses, daimons, and gods that animate you! The matter is rather a bit worse that this, though. Each child discovers and secures his “inner self” by the discovery of his ability to lie, which further undermines social trust! Ernest Becker explains as follows:

We are, in reality, somewhat spit in two, the self and the body; the one hidden, the other open. The child learns very quickly to cultivate this private self because it puts a barrier between him and the demands of the world. He learns he can keep secrets–at first an excruciating, intolerable burden: it seems that the outer world has every right to penetrate into his self and that the parents could automatically do so if they wished–they always seem to know just what he is thinking and feeling. But then he discovers that he can lie and not be found out: it is a great and liberating moment, this anxious first lie–it represents the staking out of his claim to an integral inner self, free from the prying eyes of the world.

Becker adds that “a person literally projects or throws himself out of the body, and anywhere at all.” An adult can project himself onto his home, kids, or the Ferrari in the garage. Unfortunately, the creation of his private self was a measure born of anxiety in order to separate himself from the prying eyes and influence of others, making it unlikely that he will identify with others as “another self,” for even if he did, that “other self” would be a liar just like him, spinning falsehoods to privately secure power. Becker tells us that “generally, the more anxious and insecure we are, the more we invest in these symbolic extensions of ourselves.” We used to gain security by identifying ourselves with the tribe, with the tribe’s mythology and thus its cosmos, and truly, with each member of the tribe. Today, however, one’s maturity is defined by how easily one can give up such identifications. Becker tells us that “strong” people are those who “disentangle themselves easily and flexibly from the little damages and ravages to their self-extensions,” adding that “this flexibility of the self is real power, and the achievement of it is a rare maturity.” How then could my neighbor be “another self” if I must be able to cut him lose if he betrays me in order to count myself strong and secure? From this vantage point it is clear that people who commit crimes of passion after being betrayed by loved-ones have truly identified with their betrayers as “other selves,” the loss of which prompting a loss of self in frenzied revenge. What we are demanding of a “cosmopolitan man” is the contradiction of loving like this, but without the passion. This is like calling a meeting of thieves and stating that “we all need to trust each other here,” or perhaps more aptly, arranging a high-stakes poker game for the purposes of establishing social trust.

One only has to look at US Army boot-camp to realize that all of this is rather obvious to scientists and government men alike. People erroneously refer to such indoctrination as “breaking the ego” or “breaking the will” (will-power) in order to rebuilt it from the ground up. You see, it is not the ego that is being broken. The ego is the same and performs the same functions before and after, though now these actions are dedicated to new ideals.  The “will” is not the same thing as that free libido exercised by the ego as “will-power.” It is thumos (the Will) that is being fractured, just as it was in the Spartan Agoge, and with nearly as much derision towards all things feminine. This is all done in the name of “building character,” making no mention of the fact that the edifice is erected from the broken pieces of that person’s prior home. When a combat vet “loses it,” he loses his humanity, he loses the connection between his thumos and his ego and thus appears manic-depressive; with god-like highs following insect-like lows. Though the berserker’s psychotic state is not modern man’s MO, in a very real sense we have all “lost it” like Odysseus, whose berserk state just spanned his natural life instead of culminating in one precipitous break. Perhaps this is why Pascal wrote that “Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.” In this sense the Buddhists are right that thinking with a detached ego-consciousness is tantamount to madness. Ernest Becker reminds us that madmen are the best reasoners we know! Perhaps this should not surprise us, given that we are all children of Odysseus; children of “he who sows trouble” or “he who was permanently scarred in youth” and was raised by the “lone wolf.” Becker tells us that “Freud discovered conscience as limited vision and as dishonest control of one-self. This is what is awesome about his work.” A soon-to-be conscious ego must first be fragmented off from his real bodily self, “de-centered,” to use Beckers phrase, and cluttered with all manner of alien images or “values” that he now confuses with his own bodily desires. This is not a fragmentation of the “ego,” mind you; the “ego” is the fragmentation. What is fragmented is character, which Becker defines as “a peculiar configuration of self-other and self-body relationships.” I consider this to be so specific and apt a description of character that I tentatively submit the right frontal insula to be its neural correlate; the very organ of thumos, or the “energy of spirited honor.”

The idea of ‘madness’ grew up during Plato’s time, where the two words manike and mantike (‘madness‘ and ‘prophecy,’ respectively) began to diverge into two stable meanings. In Plato’s earlier writings, like the Phaedo, “madness” and “prophecy” were indistinguishable and characterized as a blessing. Much later, in The Laws, however, Plato stresses manike and a more modern notion of mental illness. This is because ego-consciousness was just then emerging, allowing a new memory system to imprecisely take the place of the old. Thus, what was unconsciously experienced as “prophecy” commensurate with the mythology of the tribe now became consciously experienced as madness in the absence of such an unchallenged explanatory structure. That is, I am much more likely to feel crazy if nobody else corroborates my experience as possession by an accepted tribal god. By the time of Socrates the Athenian worldview was already unstable, which rendered it so insecure that Socrates was put to death for urging Athenian youths to independently assess their own hero-system (character). Socrates blasphemed that it was possible to hold a dialogue with the gods, perhaps even to wrestle with them! Where the conversation had forever been one-way, from God to man, from conscience to ego, Socrates was able to enter a dialogue with his character or daimon. Keep in mind, however, that Socrates had been socialized in a culture that was not hostile to mantike, but actively encouraged it. Accordingly, his daimon was a fully developed other self, or devil’s advocate, before Socrates realized he could entreat it to unbidden conversation. Perhaps we would be wise to cultivate this old system by keeping our “imaginary friends” past childhood. Truly, this new-found ability is not just described by Plato through his character Socrates, but at a higher level of abstraction, Plato’s works themselves are an expression and embodiment of this ability: Plato is holding a dialogue with Socrates by writing a dialogue in which his idealized hero-figure is holding a dialogue with his own idealized hero-figure! Plato is not just telling us but also showing us how to hold a dialogue with ourselves. Perhaps we don’t need to keep our imaginary friends so much as take our internalized relationship with our real friends much more seriously.

We correctly tend to think of a madman as someone who has no control over the unconscious forces within him. In this sense bicameral man was not mad for there was no “him” that the irrational forces would be controlling. A preliterate tribesman is not mad because he at least has a themis that helps his nascent ego order his Will so as to act in the best interests of the tribe. Modern man, however, has a paper-thin themis that amounts to deifying the ego, leaving the unconscious forces within him cutoff both from the ego and from the tribe. Rational though he is, this rationality is precisely what allows conscious man to be driven mad! However, I would strongly prefer this brand of “madness” to earlier versions. “Alpha-consciousness” was a great leap in our evolution that allowed us to experience ourselves through projected deities and revelatory fugues–that is, through hallucination. The ego suddenly had access to tracks of memory that otherwise required the physical presence of an associated stimuli. “Beta-consciousness,” however, empowered the ego to conjure up these hallucinations at will. However, each act of willful-hallucination, which we call “thinking,” necessarily orders and changes the Will, often leading to pathology. Furthermore, the old memory system is still around and though it still offers many advantages to the conscious memory system, it more often than not ends up intruding destructively during illness. Perhaps it is sometimes best to leave it to our unconscious minds to prime us with dad’s advice when it feels like it, instead of when it is of obvious practical use to our ego, which is often too quick to self-censure or be its own father. Perhaps this old system is far more nuanced and profound in its use of cultural material than our egos could ever be. If we could only articulate a themis that would bind these two memory systems into harmonious synergy! Failing that, I still hold that moving forward through consciousness is a better move than retreating into unconsciousness.

The anti-emotional trend of consciousness, provided that it is not carried to extremes, is an unmixed blessing for humanity. The impulsiveness of primitive man and of people in the mass, who are likely to be stampeded into catastrophic action on the slightest provocation, is so dangerous, so unpredictable in its “brainless” suggestibility, that it is highly desirable for the community that it should be replaced by conscious directives.         – Erich Neumann

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5 Responses to Consciousness: Breakdown Or Breakthrough?

  1. Pingback: Freeze Sucka! On Cultivating The Fighting Spirit « Think On These Things

  2. yahoo search says:

    Hola! I’ve been reading your web site for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Huffman Tx!
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  3. An intriguing post. I noticed this post because you linked to it in a discussion. I’ve been interested in Jaynes for a while now. It recently came up in my thinking and so I was looking around the web. I like how you bring all of these ideas together, in particular the madness angle.

  4. Pingback: Views of the Self | Marmalade

  5. genhorst says:

    Reblogged this on Das Wesen and commented:
    Für Fans von Nietzsche oder Julian Jaynes ein paar kluge und innovative Gedanken.

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