“Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature…”

“There are historical reasons for this resistance to the idea of an unknown part of the human psyche. Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature, and it is still in an “experimental” state. It is frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured. As anthropologists have noted, one of the most common mental derangements that occur among primitive people is what they call “the loss of a soul”—which means, as the name indicates, a noticeable disruption (or, more technically, a dissociation) of consciousness.

“Among such people, whose consciousness is at a different level of development from ours, the “soul” (or psyche) is not felt to be a unit. Many primitives assume that a man has a “bush soul” as well as his own, and that this bush soul is incarnate in a wild animal or a tree, with which the human individual has some kind of psychic identity. This is what the distinguished French ethnologist Lucien Lévy-Brühl called a “mystical participation.” He later retracted this term under pressure of adverse criticism, but I believe that his critics were wrong. It is a well-known psychological fact that an individual may have such an unconscious identity with some other person or object.

“This identity takes a variety of forms among primitives. If the bush soul is that of an animal, the animal itself is considered as some sort of brother to the man. A man whose brother is a crocodile, for instance, is supposed to be safe when swimming a crocodile-infested river. If the bush soul is a tree, the tree is presumed to have something like parental authority over the individual concerned. In both cases an injury to the bush soul is interpreted as an injury to the man.

“In some tribes, it is assumed that a man has a number of souls; this belief expresses the feeling of some primitive individuals that they each consist of several linked but distinct units. This means that the individual’s psyche is far from being safely synthesized; on the contrary, it threatens to fragment only too easily under the onslaught of unchecked emotions.”

Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
Part 1: Approaching the Unconscious
The importance of dreams

4 thoughts on ““Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature…”

  1. Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature, and it is still in an “experimental” state.

    Here, Jung and I depart a little. And I wonder if such isn’t the basis for Gebser’s criticism of Jung’s “psychism.” (I often dearly wish I could ask him.)

    I would agree had he written that human consciousness, not to mention its various ‘structurations’ throughout history, is a comparatively recent development. I definitely wouldn’t use the word “experimental” to describe its presently confused state — quotation marks or not — though. (“Experimentation” is the basis of the sciences.)

    Discombobulated, maybe.

    Balance is everything, as far I’m concerned, and everything is naturally in balance…but for us for some strange reason.* “The fourfold” is one thing; balancing “the fourfold” in our minds and actions, on the other hand is…well, a balancing act.

    *There is much talk of “truthiness” today and, as far as examples go, I have to defer to the classic discipline that is my mainstay: Arts & Literature.

    I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern: a virus. Human beings are a disease — a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure. ~ The Matrix

    Truth-y enough. But, what’s wrong with this picture?

    I find it interesting that the creators of The Matrix defined the Matrix itself as “a prison for your mind.” Not your heart, mind you. Just your mind. This, of course, begs the question: Since when have “heart” and “mind” been separate from one another?

    Hmmm.

    • “Here, Jung and I depart a little. And I wonder if such isn’t the basis for Gebser’s criticism of Jung’s “psychism.””

      I’m not familiar with the details of Gebser’s views on much of anything. I only know of Gebser’s work indirectly through the writings of others. I am remedying that situation, as I’m beginning to look into it. So, hopefully, my vast ignorance will be slightly lessened in the near future. Until then, might you explain to me Gebser’s criticism. Much appreciated.

      What do you think is meant by Jung’s “psychism”? I’ve found it hard to pin Jung down at times. He lived so long and so his writing career extended over a significant period of time, with his published works extending from 1912 to 1961. Much changed in the world during that time.

      This might be why there is so much confusion surrounding Jung’s thought. I previously suggested that Daniel Everett misunderstood a particular Jungian idea:
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/what-is-the-blank-slate-of-the-mind/

      The passage by Jung in the above post is not all that different from the view of Julian Jaynes or many similar thinkers who postulate a profound transformation in the human mind. I might add that, like Jaynes, it is probably the case that Jung is using ‘consciousness’ in a very specific way. Here is another post where I explore another bit from Jung, also very much related to a Jaynesian take on consciousness:
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/the-psychology-and-anthropology-of-consciousness/

      “I find it interesting that the creators of The Matrix defined the Matrix itself as “a prison for your mind.” Not your heart, mind you. Just your mind. This, of course, begs the question: Since when have “heart” and “mind” been separate from one another?”

      You might similarly ask, Since when have “body” and “mind been separate from one another? For either question, my tendency is to go back to Jaynes (along with Jaynesian scholars like Michael Carr and Brian J. McVeigh).

      We have to understand what creates these categories in our thought and perception, behavior and relating. Along these lines is also linguistic relativity, something William S. Burroughs was concerned about in his own way, but this also leads back to Daniel Everett (and his son, Caleb, who wrote two books on linguistic relativity).

      • What do you think is meant by Jung’s “psychism”?

        Gebser’s criticism of Jung’s thought (as I presently understand it) is that Jung’s thought is — at least, on occasion — exceptionally “psychistic,” i.e. relegated to and occurring within the “mind” alone, which also reminds of Rosenstock:

        Philosophy’s major deficiency, for Rosenstock-Huessy, is that it is not sufficiently sensitive to time, speech or history. To a large extent this is because logic itself is timeless. As he says in ‘The Terms of the Creed’, ‘logic is that mode of spiritual life in which the divinity of timing is omitted’. Logic transports us out of time and offers the mind a stable, but unreal space. For Rosenstock-Huessy, this search for a stable space is reflected in recurrent philosophical elements which privilege the implacability of space (or a particular space) over the ceaselessness of time.

        Modern philosophy’s division of things into subject and object (a spatial configuration) is a case in point, but it goes back to the ancients whose building blocks such as topics (from topos place), ‘categories’ (from kata = ‘down to’ and agora = ‘the public assembly’ i.e. declaiming in the assembly), reason’s sphericality, and ideas (the very term idea, eidein = ‘to see’, referring to something visible to the mind’s eye) all suggest a commitment to (the mental) space’s primacy. The same point is made somewhat more elaborately in the first volume of the In the Cross of Reality (2009, 1,307 –311) where he argues that dialectical thought is triadic, but anything that really happens and makes itself manifest, i.e. appears (erscheint), is at least quadrilateral. It must be something in space and time, and hence conform to the inner/outerness or subjective/objective matrix of space, as well as the trajective and prejective-ness of time. He called this four-fold matrix the ‘cross of reality’ and it is applied repeatedly throughout his works. — Stanford entry on Rosenstock-Huessy

        Call me simple-minded; call me complex-minded; call me a hound dog, if you wish, but don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.

        “Time is of the soul.” ~ Augustus

        “Time is of the essence.” ~ Anonymous

        • I think I get the point made. Yeah, I suppose Jung could be fairly charged in being psychistic, at least on occasion. But I’d have to give it some more thought, specifically in this context.

          If philosophy’s major deficiency is that it is not sufficiently sensitive to time, speech or history, then there might be some common ground between Rosenstock-Huessy and Jaynes. Privileging the implacability of space (or a particular space) sounds potentially Jaynesian. The post-bicameral mind is all about the creation of metaphorical space that we literalize as identity.

          About time, did you see my most recent post on nostalgia. Maybe I sense some resonance with what you bring up here. The human experience of time has changed, no doubt, and that relates to the experience of space.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s