Friday, January 23, 2015

A Cloud of Unknowing?

Reading FWH Myers’ own work (link)—and reading about him—brought back to my mind a subject that once much puzzled and interested me, namely Carl Gustav Jung’s Unconscious. It has always puzzled me that anyone would associate a mental something, which the Jungian Unconscious surely is, with unconsciousness—and it has exercised my mind because, for me, the mental is above all, and almost by definition, consciousness. In this I am in good company because the modern psychologist I most respect, Viktor Frankl, somewhere once called the Unconscious a mystification. All sorts of thought processes are going on in the body—because the brain produces them; of some we are conscious, of others we are not. My own very traditional view is that we have a soul; and it is the soul that is conscious of some things and not of others. In the modern view, namely that the entirety of consciousness is a brain structure pure and simple, and there is no soul at all, thus nothing separable from the body and therefore from the brain, the Unconscious is some major part of brain activity and consciousness simply another and much smaller part of the brain specialized in “attention,” or something like that.

Myers comes into this picture because he postulated something quite like the Jungian Unconscious in his notion of a Subliminal Mind. And, much like Jung, he saw in this part of our mind the same features of greater comprehensiveness and wisdom than the ordinary waking consciousness produces. From that level, in Myers view, “gushes up” (to use his phrase) the inspiration that makes the genius and artist; there reside healing powers and paranormal gifts like telepathy.

Now, to be sure, anyone involved in creative activities is surely well aware of inspiration—and will confess that the work of art, whatever its nature—or the invention, or the discovery—is not a personal achievement but a gift. It comes from somewhere and the artist/inventor/discoverer is merely an agent by means of which this (call it) energy is given some kind of tangible form. You might therefore say that the Unconscious or the Subliminal Mind is what creative people would call Inspiration—thus something separate from them but actually existing out there somewhere. And access to it is by one of the actual powers of the human mind, intuition.

Back when I was wrestling with Jung, I used to laugh and say to myself: “Here’s Carl Jung. He’s reinvented God again.” I said that because, functionally, the Collective Unconscious, anyway, had many features of the towering divine. God, for Jung was just an archetype, thus something in the Unconscious. No sooner had Nietzsche declared God dead than Jung declared the Unconscious alive and well. Their lives overlapped.

The phenomenon we all experience is something strange indeed—because inspiration is a strange thing, as are meaningful coincidences—as are precognitive dreams, experiences of telepathy, and so on. Those who give deep thought to these things give them names and thus in a way institutionalize them. And this has always been so.

Back in the fourteenth century appeared a slender book—which long ago I once had read—entitled The Cloud of Unknownig by an anonymous author. It deals with prayer. It counsels that we must let go of our ego and mind in prayer and enter the realm of “unknowingness” to experience what God is. My own thoughts about Carl Jung were thus grounded in an intuition. Whenever analytical knowledge fails us, we tend to discover some king of cloud of unknowing and project there what we think the answer might be. Dark matter serves that purpose in modern cosmology. The truth may be (to produce a projection of my own) that we are indeed surrounded by a vast reality of mind quite resistant to our effective grasp. And it is real enough—but it is not us, is not our mind. At different times through history we invent new names for it to explain what will not fit into our head.

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