Seven Days with Carl Jung, Part IIa

From the Red Book

From the Red Book

If you had read Part I of this two-part article, you were undoubtedly expecting “Part II” to appear here without the little ‘a’ attached. The reason for this incomplete follow-up is that I still have more reading and thinking to do.

Nonetheless, I have something to say after having spent seven days reading and taking notes from Jung’s books, including some of The Red Book, and also from books about Jung or influenced by Jung.

A brief, preliminary report:

  • C.G. Jung was born in 1875,  a gifted shaman in a culture which did not recognize such talents and abilities as useful or, probably, even proper. He hid his talents and proclivities from others.
  • He lived in a Swiss town where his family was, economically and socially, relatively poor. As a schoolboy he was perceived as different and socially excluded.
  • At around age eleven he gained a sudden insight, due to overhearing his father express concern for young Gustav, which broke him away from his childish pursuits and attitudes. He began a life of scholarship and inquiry concerning both the world at large and the nature of his own internal processes.
  • Around the same time Jung became aware of two personalities residing within him, which he later labeled “personality no.1” and “personality no.2”–his outer and inner selves, roughly speaking. 
  • Around the time of his confirmation in the Lutheran Church (his father was a minister), he was struggling with the concept of God, whether he might have blasphemed, and what God might want of him. He came out of this feeling he had discovered an aspect of God which the church was ignoring or had overlooked, and that he had a special insight.
  • He was ambitious and needed to excel and be influential in life, but was uncertain as to the best path until he fixed, first, on medicine, then psychology, then psychiatry.
  • He married a wealthy and intellectually gifted woman; this solved his issue with poverty and, I assume, to an important degree with respect to his social standing.
  • He became an acknowledged “number two” to Sigmund Freud which got him on the road toward the professional recognition he sought.
  • He developed, independently from Freud, his own views and work goals that he carefully and assiduously cloaked with the name of “science”.
  • Upon breaking with Freud he was ready to pursue, internally (i.e., inside himself–his “personality no.2”), the ideas, feelings, and insights he had gained from constant self-examination and from clinical findings in his patients. The Red Book was a result of this pursuit.

What am I trying to accomplish here?

crazy-egg4I’ll answer this in summary form, then offer a small essay on how I arrived at this point.

    • Will the dream content (“material”) arising from the collective unconscious, in dreams and otherwise, be similar in people from widely different cultures and geographical settings, e.g., Borneo vs the Siberian tundra?
    • Is psychology a science? Is psychiatry a science? Does it matter either way? Which of these disciplines did Jung practice? What is the difference between them?
    • In that the unconscious cannot be understood by rational analysis, how can we trust what has been written and otherwise explained about it, by anyone?
    • In that Carl Jung was a specific “type”, in his own system of psychological typology (INF-“Idealist, Healer, Counselor”, per Keirsey), is being one of these types more conducive to achieve an understanding and/or integration of one’s unconscious?
    • Must I analyze my dreams to successfully integrate my conscious mind with my unconscious, to individuate?
    • In that I am “type” INT (“Rational, Architect, Mastermind”, per Keirsey), will I be able sufficiently to understand what Jung experienced and taught?
    • Is it fair or proper to call Jung a “shaman” as I have done at the beginning of this article?

Also, I need to better understand the nature and function of the anima in men and the animus in women.

One of the characteristics of my “type” is that I need to make sense out things–how does it work; will it work? I am already convinced that there is no rational “sense” to the workings of the unconscious, particularly the part that Jung labels “collective”. Yet, what  Jung writes makes sense to me Perhaps it is the intuitive faculty we both share that bonds me to him and his views of man-in-nature.

Please stay tuned for “Part IIb”, the conclusion of this quest.

How I got to this point

jung-red-book-dragon-jungcurrentsUpon learning of the The Red Book through some reading last year, I felt compelled to learn more about it, especially about the images it contained. I found many of the images on the Internet. I needed to make my own book, feeling that the real one would not be available to me, so I copied and printed the larger-size images and put them in a binder. This was pleasing but not satisfying. I started to fantasize about buying the book via the Internet, but found the price and shipping charges prohibitive.

A short time after this, late last year, I was walking with my friend Eric on Drottninggatan (“Queen Street”) after having had our semi-regular fika and conversation in downtown Stockholm. I was telling him about my current obsession when I suddenly remembered that I had actually seen The Red Book in a shop further up this street some months ago, before I had learned about it in my reading. We found the remembered bookstore (Vattumannen), and there was the book prominently displayed on a high shelf. I was allowed to view it in the presence of an employee. After a few minutes of carefully turning the large and heavy pages, I knew I had to have the book even though it cost 1,500 Swedish Crowns (around $230).

2013-02-25 gröndal-06

The Guest House in Gröndal

This still wasn’t enough. I needed to be with the book, alone, for a significant period. I needed to experience, possibly, some of what Jung experienced during his plunge into his own unconscious. I thought of my friends near Uppsala who had once before allowed me to use their guest house for a writing retreat. They readily agreed and I scheduled my week for a few months later.

Prior to the “Jung retreat” I began re-reading many of my books which were about Jung. or influenced by Jung. But I discovered I had no books by Jung, except for Seven Sermons for the Dead which is also included in The Red Book and Answer to Job, an early work. Something I saw recommended two of his last books: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a memoir dictated to and edited by an associate; and, Man and His Symbols, containing articles by Jung and other psychologists. I bought them and started reading his memoir a week before the retreat.

2013-02-25 ron in gröndal with sheri and svanteI made many marginal notes and underlinings in the memoir before my week of retreat, but didn’t finish the book. I brought the memoir, and all the other books I felt relevant to my interest in Jung, to the guest house and began to make notes from it in a large notebook. The further I read in the memoir, the more I felt it was the right thing to prepare me for The Red Book. After I finished it, I quickly re-read Colin Wilson’s biography of Jung, Lord of the Underworld, looking for some perspective on the memoir. I now saw Wilson’s biography of Jung as superficial in many respects, and that it wasn’t quite complete. I felt, therefore, there might be some value in augmenting Wilson’s observations with my own.

As I read through the Introduction to The Red Book, again making notes, I saw that the writer of the Introduction viewed it desirable to first read Jung’s memoir. I now saw that I had made the right decision to preempt my planned reading of The Red Book by continuing to read the memoir to completion. 

By the end of my planned stay in the guest house, I hadn’t quite gotten to read the last portion of The Red Book, the part that contains the English translation of Jung’s words in the book. So, I reckoned I would choose another time, at home, to do this reading.

From all my reading in the guest house, I felt much better qualified to understand anything that would follow in my studies of Jung, in and out of The Red Book.

I decided to read the other book, Man and His Symbols, to further prepare me for the remainder of the reading in The Red Book. It already is answering some of the questions I have formulated.


ADDENDUM, posted one day later (13 March 2013):

Upon further consideration, there will be no “Part IIb” to this multipart, too-lengthy essay on Jung’s Red Book and his other writings. Here’s why:

I am using my rational faculties to suck up facts and opinions in an orderly attempt to understand a non-rational, non-orderly thing: the human unconscious, or the right brain (or right lobe of the brain), or the subjective mind—and the contents of this entity: dreams, visions, nameless/unnameable things.

This exercise of my rational faculties, which are inherently strong and well-developed over their 76 years of use, is presenting a barrier to the exercise of my non-rational faculties—those presumably found in the areas hypothesized and inadequately named, above. I need to develop this area of my ‘self’ in order to perform the creative writing I keep telling myself I want and need to do.

I’ve learned enough through Jung, and life, to know there is a reservoir of stuff waiting to be tapped for my creative writing—and greater fulfillment in life.

I harken back to an insightful poem I wrote seven years ago:

Intellect & Soul

My intellect has been
My shield and my sword

My soul, retarded by this protection,
Has gained its voice over time

Now Soul says to Intellect:

I will not submerge you
I still need you as a partner

If you can relax and allow it”

Posted in Archetypes, Carl Jung, Consciousness, Instinct, mind, Philosophy, Psychology, Rational, Religion, The Self, The Unconscious | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Seven Days with Carl Jung, Part I of II

I will spend one week alone in the country, in a comfortable guest house lent to me by a friend living near Uppsala, Sweden, reading and immersing myself in the book by the renown psychologist Carl Jung, Liber Novus (Latin for ‘New Book’), or The Red Book as it is presented in English. I’ll explain more fully, below.

I intend to take notes and write whatever may come to mind during this happening, but I cannot predict the outcome—I don’t know what to expect by my diving into the psyche of Carl Jung.

The worst case is that I may have a psychotic break. If this should happen, my friend and her husband live close by in the main house. Also, I will send a text message to my wife in Stockholm every evening informing her of my status.

Why would I even contemplate such a possible outcome? Here is an edited excerpt from Wikipedia’s listing on The Red Book:

Carl Gustav Jung was associated with Sigmund Freud beginning in 1907. Their relationship became increasingly acrimonious. When the final break came in 1913, Jung retreated from many of his professional activities for a time to further develop his own theories. Biographers disagree as to whether this period represented a psychological breakdown. Anthony Storr, reflecting on Jung’s own judgment that he was “menaced by a psychosis” during this time, concluded that the period represented a psychotic episode.

Jung referred to the episode as a kind of experiment, a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious. Biographer Barbara Hannah, who was close to Jung later in his life, compared Jung’s experiences to the encounter of Menelaus with Proteus in the Odyssey. Jung, she said, “made it a rule never to let a figure or figures that he encountered leave until they had told him why they had appeared to him.”

About the Red Book, Jung said:

Carl Gustav Jung, 1875 – 1961

The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then. (Source)

So, I expect an adventure—an internal one which I cannot describe until I may experience it, and even then may not have words sufficient to communicate it to others. But I will try.


I have been reading about Jung, and reading some of his works (translated, of course, from the German), starting around 50 years ago when I was in university (Berkeley, California). I became superficially aware of his theories of archetypes and the collective unconscious and felt he was on to something. But, I was not pursuing a career in psychology and let the interest lie until I might be able to pursue it later.

Near the end of my career I became aware of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychological profiling instrument for normal people, based in Jungian psychology. A consultant to my hospital performed this profiling for my management team to help us deal with some communication problems. It worked.

As I prepared for retirement from employent in the middle of my 66th year, intending to return to management consulting which I had occasionally done in my 40-year career, I attended a workshop to become qualified to administer and interpret the MBTI. I was successful.

In the ten years since I stopped being an employee and having more discretionary time than ever before, I have read several more books by and about Carl Jung (see next section), and have written three articles which mention or focus on his findings and teachings:

In Preparation for the Seven Days


Before I go on retreat I will re-read all the books I have collected by and about Jung and his theories:

That’s it.

I intend to post a subsequent article, Seven Days with Carl Jung, Part II of II, about whatever I realize from this inner adventure, within the limitations of mere words on a page.

Wish me luck.

Posted in Archetypes, Consciousness, Psychology, The Unconscious | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Jung’s Archetypes and the Quantum Sea

While in university I electively read from Carl Gustav Jung’s works to learn about the collective unconscious and the archetypes which populate it. It seemed a mysterious, hidden world that Jung propounded and I wasn’t sure if this was science or mysticism, or something in between. But I wasn’t a student in psychology, so I let the matter rest.

After university, I continued to read widely and learned about Jung’s concept of synchronicity. I had a good feeling for this concept and became more conscious of “coincidences” that might well fit under or into Jung’s definition. At age 75, I am no longer surprised in experiencing, more and more often, instances of synchronicity.

Many years after university, a consultant to the hospital I was then managing offered to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to my management team. It was a useful exercise and instrument for self-knowledge and team building, among other benefits. I was so impressed with the instrument’s utility I later attended a course to become qualified to administer and interpret the MBTI. Since the “types” in this instrument are personality types as described by Jung, his other work came again to mind, including the concept of archetypes.

Now that I have retired from employment and engaged in creative writing, I see where a greater understanding in the use of archetypes for my characters might advance me in this realm. So, I looked into Carol S. Pearson’s approach, and purchased her book to learn about the mix of archetypes within me. She uses twelve archetypes, as seen here in her “index”, to help a person understand his or her stage of development (click on all images for clearer definition):

stages of archtypal development

 (Source: Pearson, Carol S., Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World)

Finally, after doing a recent Internet search for more sources on archetypes, I came across the article which provides the basis for the remainder of this article: Archetypes, Neurognosis and the Quantum Sea, by C. D. Laughlin, published 1996 by the Society for Scientific Exploration in its Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 375-400.

A Physical Basis for Archetypes

The author, with many references to the relevant literature, hypothesizes that archetypes have a basis in one’s physiology, in the physics of the human structure, one that is shared among all humans. I quote in full his abstract of the article:

C.G. Jung left a great deal of ambiguity surrounding the ontological status of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. He did so because of the inadequacy of the science of his day. Modern developments in the neurosciences and physics — especially the new physics of the vacuum — allow us to develop Jung’s understanding of the archetypes further. This paper analyzes the salient characteristics of Jung’s concept of the archetype and uses modern biogenetic structural theory to integrate archetypal psychology and the neurosciences. The paper reviews some of the evidence in favor of direct neurophysiological-quantum coupling [the author’s term] and suggests how neural processing and quantum events may interpenetrate.

Beginning the Conversation on The Archetypes

Carl Jung reported on universal patterns in the ideation and imagination in his patients, in myth and other literature, and in his own experience with dreams and other ideations. He asserted that humans have instinctive structures which are ancient, transpersonal and transcultural. His earliest definition of these structures was “an independent constellation of primordial material inherited from the distant evolutionary past”, as written by Laughlin. Here is what Jung wrote:

[The] personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.

Jung later named these structured “archetypes”. His conception and definition of archetypes evolved over his lifetime, which Laughlin incorporates into the development of his thesis.

The following is an edited version (mine) of Laughlin’s article. I take responsibility for any errors in transcription.

Archetypes as Evolutionary Structures

Human archetypes are the result of the evolution of the structure of the human psyche. Jung emphasized that the archetypes are part of human inheritance. They are extraordinarily stable and enduring structures that form the fundamental organization of the psyche, that arise anew in every human incarnation, and that are akin to the instincts.

The archetypes may have changed during our evolutionary past, but in their present form they encode the recurrent experiences of human beings over countless millennia and across all cultural boundaries. In some instances the archetypes encode recurrent experiential material from our pre-hominid animal past.

Archetypal structures underlie all recurrent, panhumanly “typical” ideas, images, categories, situations, and events that arise in experience. They contain no inherent content, but exist “at first only as forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action”.

Archetypes may manifest as “a priori, inborn forms of ‘intuition”‘. And as the instincts impel us to act in a distinctly human way, so do the archetypes impel us to perceive and understand the events we instinctively respond to in a distinctly human way. For Jung instinct and archetype are two sides of the same unconscious functional coin:

(T)he archetype or primordial image might be described as the instinct’s perception of itself or as the self-portrait of the instinct, in exactly the same way as consciousness is an inward perception of the objective life-process. Just as conscious through the archetype determines the form and direction of instinct. –Jung

Thus the archetypes may be characterized as being instinctual “meaning” and the collective unconscious as containing both the instincts and the archetypes; this system represents a panhumanly universal phenomenon.

Most discussions of the archetypes, including Jung’s, tend to emphasize a handful of relatively dramatic forms; e.g., the Wise Old Man, the anima and animus, etc. These few forms are those that arise in dreams and myths, whereas most archetypes mediate the very mundane functioning of cognition and activity in everyday psychological life. The total range of archetypes is the source for human beings everywhere of typicality in experience.

[This reminds me of Plato’s Theory of Forms which attempts to account for abstract notions such as “the good” and “fear”, or recurring patterns such as “leaf”.–RP]

Archetypes and their Transforms

Jung emphasized that we cannot understand the archetypes directly. All we can know are the archetypal images and ideas that arise in the symbolism of our own experience, or that we deduce from the ideas and images found in texts and other traditional symbolic forms. The archetypes are not material that was once conscious and somehow lost either in early childhood, or in some archaic hominid age. Rather, the archetypes have never been conscious during the course of either ontogenesis or phylogenesis.

These perpetually unconscious archetypal structures lie behind and generate the symbolism that is so essential to all mythological and religious systems. The archetypes produce such distinctive and universal motifs as the incest taboo, the unity of opposites, the King, the Goddess, the Hero, and so on.

It is clear in Jung’s treatment that actual engagement with the archetypes is a dynamic and developmental process, involving both the assimilation of archetypal contents into consciousness and, as a consequence, the transformation of the archetypes themselves. “We must bear in mind that what we mean by ‘archetype’ is in itself irrepresentable, but has effects which make visualizations of it possible, namely, the archetypal images and ideas”. (Jung).

Oedipus and the Sphinx (Source:

Archetypes As Transpersonal Experience

Jung’s whole approach, whether in the consulting room or in his own spiritual work, was essentially phenomenological. The archetypes are not merely theoretical concepts, but are derived from direct empirical observation of patterns in our own experience. We know the archetypes, not by merely thinking about them, but by experiencing their myriad activities in the arena of our own consciousness and then reflecting upon them.

What makes the activity of the archetypes distinctive in human affairs is the sense of profundity and numinosity that commonly accompanies their emergence into consciousness. Their numinosity is derived from the fact that they store up and are conduits for affective and libidinous energies from lower levels of the psyche. So numinous and transpersonal are the symbolic eruptions of archetypal processes that the experience of them may lead to fascination and faith, and even to states of possession and over-identification with the imagery.

Archetypes in Development

The archetypes are not solely an adult phenomenon. They are present from the beginning of life and, indeed, are the only foundation of childhood psychic development.  Another way to say this is that the ego is the result of the archetypes coming to know themselves. Jung was aware that a child’s experience is thoroughly archetypal: The child’s psyche, prior to the stage of ego-consciousness, is very far from being empty and devoid of content. Scarcely has speech developed when, in next to no time, consciousness is present; and this with its momentary contents and its memories, exercises an intensive check upon the previous collective contents.

It is the unfolding collective unconscious and its nascent archetypal structures that produces the highly mythological contents of children’s dreams. Eventually this unfolding landscape of archetypal material engages in a developmental dialogue with the emerging conscious ego that becomes the essential process of individuation.

Birdman the Heirophant

Archetypes As Organs

The archetype is as much an organ to the psyche as the liver is to metabolism. And as organs, archetypes develop during the course of life. The archetypes express themselves in emerging consciousness as images and ideas, and these transformations are actively assimilated into the conscious ego in such a way as to produce feedback which constrains further transformations. The process by which the ego assimilates essentially transpersonal, panhuman material gradually lessens the mysterious and numinous qualities of archetypal eruptions.

Indeed, the process of assimilation may become so active that the ego over-identifies with and feels responsible for producing these materials. Those of us who have spent time in spiritual movements may recognize the common phenomenon of individuals who over-identify with and personalize essentially transpersonal experiences.  For Jung, this over-identification of ego with transpersonal experience may also account for certain dynamics of psychosis.

The Ontological Status of the Archetypes

Jung was unable to scientifically reconcile his conviction that the archetypes are at once embodied structures and bear the imprint of the divine; that is, the archetypes are both structures within the human body, and represent the domain of spirit, but the science of his day could not envision a non-dualistic conception of spirit and matter. (My emphasis—RP).

Jung did not intend to produce a dualism between psyche and the material world, for he held that these are but two aspects of the same reality. The archetypes, as structures, are also a system of limitations upon human experience. That is, they not only cause thoughts, images and actions, they are sets of limiting factors on the general range of experiences that may arise within the consciousness of an individual.

Jung was more inclined to think of the archetypes in biological terms in his earlier writings, while being more inclined to speak of the spiritual dimension in his later works. He early-on wrote that the archetypes are “ever-repeated typical experiences” that are somehow impressed upon the materiality of the body that they had been “stamped on the human brain for aeons”.

The Archetypes in Summary

The archetypes produce all of the universal material in myth and ritual drama. Archetypal experiences tend to be numinous and transpersonal in their impact upon personal development, for they are the eruption of archaic and timeless meaning into the personal world of the ego. They are archaic in the sense that they have evolved over long periods of time, and are timeless in that they arise anew in the experience of each passing generation bearing recognizably similar patterns.

Beginning the Engagement with Modern Physics

(This where we cannot avoid using terminology which is new to most readers here—RP)

The Archetypes As Neurognosis

As it stands, Jung’s account of the archetypes does not allow a clear and easy engagement with modern physics. Biogenetic structural theory however introduces the concept that the archetypes are structures within the nervous system. Of course we have used our own (modern) terminology in developing these concepts.

According to biogenetic structural theory, a principal function of the higher processes of the human brain is the development of each individual’s cognized environment. The cognized environment is the total set of neurophysiological models that mediate all of an individual’s experiences. The cognized environment contrasts with an individual’s operational environment which includes both the actual nature of that individual as an organism and the individual’s external world. As discussed here, the concept of the operational environments has been extended to include the quantum sea. The primordial, biological function of the cognized environment is the adaptation of the individual organism to its operational environment by making sure that the world of experience is adaptively isomorphic with the world of reality.


When we are speaking of the functioning of neural structures in producing either experience or some other activity unconscious to the individual, we use the term neurognosis. This usage is similar to Jung’s reference to archetypal imagery, ideas, and activities that emerge into, and that are active in consciousness.

All neurophysiological models develop from nascent models which exist as the initial, genetically determined neural structures already producing the experiences of the fetus and infant. When we wish to emphasize the neurognostic structures themselves, we tend to mention structures or models. The neurognostic structures correspond to Jung’s archetypes. Although much attention was given to relatively dramatic archetypal imagery in his writings, Jung actually believed that there were as many archetypes as there are species-wide, typical perceptions. Jung’s reference to the essential unknowability of the archetypes-in-themselves also applies to neurognostic structures in our formulation.

hyperbolic orthogonal dodecahedral honeycomb (

Neurognostic Development 

And, as with Jung’s understanding of the archetype, neurognosis also applies to the genetically conditioned processes of development of neurognostic structures. In a certain sense the archetypes are indistinguishable from the instincts. Neurognosis, too, refers to both the initial organization and function of neural models, and to the genetically channelled processes of their growth and development, especially in early life. The entire course of what Jung would call “individuation” is highly influenced by neurognostic processes.

 The Evolution of Neurognosis

Unlike Jung’s uncertainty in the matter, we have concluded that neurognosis (the archetypes) has changed over the millions of years of our species’ phylogenesis. We are forced to this conclusion due to:

  1. the evidence of dramatic encephalization found in the fossil record of our extinct ancestors, and
  2. the fact that social variation in the development of a system of fundamental, evolutionarily derived structures (i.e., culture) appears to be the primary mode of human adaptation.

The archetypes as structures mediating intuitive and symbolic knowledge are undoubtedly located in the areas of the nervous system that appear to have evolved most dramatically during the course of hominid encephalization and that produce the distinctly human quality of mentation, learning, communication, and social action characteristic of our species today.

Culture and Neurognosis

Neurocognitive development is exquisitely ordered by processes inherent to the growth patterns of the organism -an ontogenetic “package” that reflects the path of evolutionary change characteristic of the horninids. There is no such thing as the development of neural tissues that is not constrained and guided by lawful, genetically linked processes. (Emphasis is mine—RP)

Development is never totally plastic. The organism must be biologically “prepared” to learn something. That is, the neurognostic structures (i.e., archetypes) must be in place, be of the correct structural configuration and developmentally mature enough to begin to model the aspect of experience they mediate. If the neural tissues are not in place, the organism is “contraprepared” for learning, and thus cannot learn structure or function of the processes mediating experience. (Emphasis is mine—RP)

Human Blastocyst Division (

The Transcendental Nature of Neurognosis

The organism (or Self) is part of the individual’s operational environment. And the organism includes the neurognostic structures (or archetypes) themselves. The archetypes then are always transcendental relative to an individual’s consciousness Jung laid special emphasis upon the essential unknowability of the archetypes. He was saying in effect that there exists a zone of uncertainty in our knowledge of our own unconscious processes, of our archetypes and of our own Self.

Jung faced a dilemma that biogenetic structuralists faced until quite recently, a problem Laughlin has called the “quantum barrier.” It refers to our inability to reconcile what we know about how the brain and consciousness work with accounts by modern physics of quantum reality existing as “wave functions” that are only “collapsed” when “measured” that is, that the act of observation somehow has a determinant effect upon how the quantum world materializes in our experience.

Jung and the Copenhagen Interpretation

The so-called Copenhagen account is problematic. It presumes a schism between experience and reality. It establishes a fundamental dualism between consciousness which operates in a mechanical universe and reality which is organized as a quantum universe. By contrast, the experience of a contemplative person (including Jung) is one of a continuum of increasing subtlety from awareness of form (termed rupa mindstates in Buddhist psychology) through the awareness of the energies that make up experience, but without form (the arupa mindstates), to the experience of the Plenum Void (the nirvana awareness). There simply is no disjunction between the experiences typical of everyday and the experience of the Plenum. There is a continuum of experienced subtlety differing in degrees of materialization and level of structure. Experience thus parallels the range of organization of the world from the level of the quantum to the level of gross matter. (Emphasis is mine—RP)

vacuum gluon field of quantum chromodynamics,
Derek B. Leinwber (

(Please click on the image and wait a bit for a dynamic view)

The Physics of the Vacuum

There are, of course, other interpretations of quantum mechanics now available in the literature. Jung had no access to these alternative interpretations, and for most physicists practicing even today, the Copenhagen account  is merely quantum mechanics.

However, there are certain developments in modern quantum physics that are making it possible for us to better model the dimensions of quantum interactions, specifically with regard to consciousness: the current work on the physics of the vacuum. The entire universe is a monad of energy of various densities. There exists a structure of underlying “zero-point” energy that permeates the universe, even pervading the most complete vacuum—a quantum sea as it were.

In the modern view empty space or vacuum is never truly particle or field free, but rather is the seat of continuous virtual particle-pair creation and annihilation processes, as well as so-called zero-point fluctuations of such fields as the electromagnetic field.

Originally thought to be of significance only for such esoteric concerns as small corrections in atomic emission processes, it is now understood that vacuum fluctuation effects play a central role in large-scale phenomena of interest to technologists as well.

The Quantum Brain–an Hypothesis and Discussion

Increasing interest in the relationship between the brain and the “sea” of zero point energy permeating the universe  indicates an increasing concern for the question of how the neurocognitive processes that mediate consciousness may also influence and be influenced by events in the quantum sea. Neurognosis operates not only at the level of the organization of neural cells into neural networks, but also at the quantum level by penetrating to and being penetrated by events in the sea.

Neural networks may be “prepared” (see above) to operate as transducers of patterned activity in the quantum sea. Transformations of neural activity may produce transformations in the structure of the sea, and vice versa. Thus local causation based upon biochemical interaction among neural cells may be transformed into non-local causation based upon biophysical activity between cells and the sea.

There are several avenues of research into possible mechanisms that have led a number of serious scholars to consider processes that mediate brain-quantum interaction. For example, Evan Harris Walker  has suggested that the quantum phenomenon known as “tunnelling” may occur at the synapse. “Tunnelling” occurs when an electron penetrates a barrier that classically is impenetrable.

Quantum Mechanics on the Macro Scale
Sherwin Yu (

Others have attempted to demonstrate “coherent” effects in cell membranes related to weak external electromagnetic fields whose effects cannot be attributed to heating the system. “Coherence” is a central concept in quantum physics and refers to events correlated over time or space. Events in the sea may produce coherence, say, in membrane activity across the entire expanse of a neural network, or that the activity across a neural network may produce coherence in the vacuum energies beyond the organism. This picture makes it possible to contemplate a continuum of levels of structural organization from the cognized environment down through and into the structure of the quantum sea.

Recognition of the importance of coherence follows in the wake of research into the paradoxical Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen experiment (EPR). They demonstrated that once two parts of a quantum system are separated, they continue to act as a correlated unity no matter how far they travel from each other. EPR-type systems confound commonsense notions of local causation, for there exists no clear mechanism by which the two parts can “interact”at a distance. It is Laughlin’s presumption that this wholism is somehow mediated by the structure of the quantum sea.

There is now evidence pointing to the importance of electromagnetic oscillations at the cellular level that are not merely caused by changes in the ambient temperature. Herbert Frohlich has hypothesized that coherent oscillations (similar to the so-called “Bose-Einstein condensation“) in certain protein structures may be triggered by a common, low energy electromagnetic field, and thus may provide a mechanism for information storage and retrieval over a wide expanse of organic tissue, an inherently quantum process.

Such electromagnetic fields may function in many types of cells, including neural cells, to control physiological processes. Frohlich has also suggested that highly polarized membrane components may be deformed by external electromagnetic fields. It is now known that natural and man-made electromagnetic fields have effects upon biological processes.

One possible mechanism is the soliton. Solitons were first discovered in the nineteenth century as a property of water waves in canals. Waves propagate down a canal at a constant speed and are the result of equilibrium between the tendency of the wave to peak and its tendency to disperse. The wave reaches a steady state in its trip down the canal.

Electromagnetic solitons are energy waves that are related to quantum field excitation and that propagate in a non-linear, steady-state fashion with very little energy loss from one point to another in a system. Theoretically, solitons may encode a great deal of information in a small space with little energy expenditure. Frohlich and others have suggested that solitons may be integral to the functioning of membranes, or have linked soliton waves with cellular functions.

Microtubule Schematic

Another plausible biophysical mechanism of direct consciousness-quantum sea interpenetration is to be found in the coherent properties of microtubules. Microtubules form a protein latticework of cylindrical pathways in the cell that are known to be involved in regulating and organizing the activity of the cell. The ordered water molecules within the hollow core of these microtubules may manifest a property of “super-radiance” and much like a laser, transform incoherent electromagnetic energy into coherent, non-linear photon pulses within the tubule. Such a pulse would also be a kind of soliton in that it might propagate without energy loss and with little energy requirement. This picture of electromagnetic activity in the structure of the cell is consonant with the suggestion by Fritz Popp and his colleagues that the regulation of cellular organization in biological systems may be accomplished by a coherent pattern of biophoton emission.

Although there has not yet been a definitive demonstration of direct neural-quantum sea interaction, the evidence is sufficiently suggestive to prompt some authorities to hypothesize that brain-quantum sea interpenetration may operate something like a “quantum computer”. That is, information and computations may be organized within the pattern of coherent quantum activities. These computations may be detectable by neural networks and used in higher order processing. It does seem possible on the strength of parapsychological and ethnographic evidence that information exchange of a broader kind may be occurring between the conscious brain and the quantum sea. And it is clear that Jung may well have agreed.

Conclusion: Archetypes, Neurognosis and the Quantum Sea

The concept of neurognosis (and Jung’s archetype) refers not only to the initial organization of the brain during pre-and perinatal life, it also refers to the total pattern of coherent quantum activity represented in all of the neural networks in the brain. We may find that there are a number of mechanisms operating at the sub-cellular level by which the structure of the sea is transduced into patterned neural activity, and vice versa. So we may speak of neurognosis as mediator of the structure of the quantum universe and the structure of the individual consciousness.

But caution must be exercised here in order to avoid very common conceptual traps spawned by phenomenological naivete and over-zealous use of technological metaphors for how the human brain works. These are traps with which Jung was all too familiar. One such trap is the view that consciousness is the product of computations. This is a view peppering the cognitive science and artificial intelligence literatures, and is generally the product of reified computer models of how the human brain works. Another trap is the tendency to reduce consciousness to the quantum mechanical level; i.e., consciousness is quantum coherence of a specific kind.

Another of these traps is the notion that the brain operates like a radio receiver, picking up “spiritual” signals that come wafting in from outside the body. This is just one more version of the mind-body dualism that Jung wished to avoid. The brain-as-receiver notion reflects a basic principle in the evolution of technologies. We humans have a long history of building one thing to do another thing. For instance, we will fashion baskets and pots to hold seeds and carry water. In more modern times we build “hardware” to run “software”. But the body and brain do not work that way. The brain is not “hardware” that requires the inputting of “software” in order to operate. Most of the evidence we have on the physiology of the brain suggests that the activity of neural structures (the “hardware”) mediates aspects of mind and consciousness (the “software”). With respect to the brain, the “hardware” is the “software”. We can simulate the behavior of a duck and end up building an airplane that actually flies, but the airplane tells us almost nothing about the duck.

The essential attributes of consciousness described by various contemplatives, and available to anyone trained in techniques of mature contemplation—attributes such as intentionality, conceptual-imaginal knowing, the granular quality of sensation, the structure of internal time consciousness, emotion, etc.—-may be modeled within the phase space defined by

1. the functional dialogue (i.e., patterns of entrainment) between pre-frontal and sensorial cortex,
2. the functional dialogue between left and right cortical hemispheres, and
3. the functional dialogue between the cortex and specific subcortical structures.

Within this functional field arises the shifting, changing network of neural cells that mediate consciousness. Our experience of the world occurs as a selection for “designation” by the neural systems mediating consciousness among the eigenstates available in the local environment. Laughlin’s view is that this “designation” occurs at every level of structure from intracellular structures sensitive to quantum coherence through to the most complex level of neural network integration.

Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis
Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741 – 1825)

Jung’s genius was in steering a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of mind-body dualism—that is, between experiential relativism on the one hand and physical reductionism on the other. It was clear to Jung that an individual’s experience is both structured by processes universal to the human psyche, and the manifestation of individuation

In some ways all humans are alike, in some ways some humans are alike, and in some ways no humans are alike. Jung was able to integrate these various points of view into a single perspective on the activities of the human psyche. And where he had scientific or solid phenomenological data to back up his views, he reported them. But where the data were not forthcoming in the science of his day, he often remained purposely self-critical, ambiguous and incomplete in the formulation of his ideas. He was quite conscious of the pitfalls of over-systematized thought, and fully intended his approach to be a dynamic and open-ended course of inquiry.

So it was with his notion of the archetype. He insisted that the archetype is not merely another word for the physiology of the image or thought. While it included the physiological basis of knowledge, the concept was intended to run deeper -deep into the instincts and beyond, outward into the universal ground of existence. The archetype exists as the intersection of spirit and matter. We are now beginning to understand in a scientific way how this intersection might be possible, if by “spirit” we mean the order of the quantum sea.

Human experience becomes the localized instantiation of the universal—the transcendental— through the medium of neurognosis. And neurognosis is precisely the local embodiment of the structure of the sea, and at the same time the structures mediating consciousness.

By application of archetypal psychology, and by the current rendition of the biogenetic structural notion of neurognosis, we can see that by implicating neural structures in the mediation of various aspects of consciousness, we do not necessarily imply a reduction of the phenomenon to its neurophysiological foundations. For instance, certain experiences of unity with the Godhead may be mediated by structures in the temporal lobes, such an analysis need not imply a reduction of transpersonal experiences to neurophysiology. Among other things, to reduce these experiences to their neurophysiological foundations begs such questions as the profundity of insight, or the causation-at-a-distance that may accompany such experiences.

On our present account, this kind of analysis may further clarify our picture of how neurognostic, or archetypal structures in the human brain may transduce insights pertaining to the universal structure of the quantum sea. Each human brain may indeed prove to be a microcosm that contains like the proverbial mustard seed, or the more modem hologram -all the wisdom of the ages, requiring only the optimal conditions of development for each person to individuate into a sage.

(This is the end of my excerpted and edited version of Dr. Laughlin’s article)

Final Note:

In high school science we went through the history of failed theories: phlogiston, for one.

As I read here about the “quantum sea” I was reminded of the failed theory of the “Aether”. The aether was supposed to be a medium necessary to transmit light through the emptiness of space, much as air transmits sound. It needed to be both rigid and fluid. It needed to be rigid to transmit transverse light waves, but it needed to be fluid so that the planets could pass through it.

So now we have the hypothesis of a much more refined and defined “quantum sea”, but still a hypothesis.

Will it stand up to the test of time?

In any case, we see now that Carl G. Jung was a savant, as well as a scientist. He foresaw a scientific rationale for the archetypes which were, early on and to some degree still, dismissed by many scientists as unmeasurable “mysticism”.

And, meanwhile, Jung’s archetypes continue to fascinate and continue to be useful in understanding man.

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Before and After Human Consciousness, or The Voice of God vs. Auditory Hallucinations

JaynesPsychologist Julian Jaynes (1920 – 1997) asserted that humans were not fully conscious until around 4,000 or 3,000 years ago, the time when the two hemispheres of the cerebrum of our brain (left and right, physically connected by the Corpus Callosum) were unified through pressures of natural selection in newly “civilized” environments.

In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples did not access consciousness (did not possess an introspective mind-space), but instead had their behavior directed by auditory hallucinations, which they interpreted as the voice of their chief, king, or the gods. Jaynes argued that the change from this mode of thinking (which he called the bicameral mind) to consciousness (construed as self-identification of interior mental states) occurred over a period of centuries about three thousand years ago and was based on the development of metaphorical language and the emergence of writing. (Source).

Jaynes’s theories and assertions are not universally accepted by the scientific community, but he has asked questions that need to be asked, according to one critic.

Jaynes never completed the second book he had intended to write, but he wrote lectures and essays which, together with commentary and essays by others since then, have culminated in a follow-up book which I have read: Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness, edited by Marcel Kuijsten.

Reading this book stimulated me to explore related areas which I will discuss under the following headings, before finally returning to the question in this article’s title regarding auditory hallucinations and God.

The tangential areas I covered in my literature search were:

  • The major structures of the human brain
  • The corpus callosum of the brain, in humans
  • The functions predominantly found in the left and right hemispheres of the cerebrum
  • Other animals with a corpus callosum
  • Carl G. Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
  • A brief look at the “self,” and if there is such a thing
  • The subject of consciousness, and of the unconscious

Major Structures of the Human Brain (Source:

Major Structures of the Human Brain

—  Cerebrum
The cerebrum or cortex is the largest part of the human brain, associated with higher brain function such as thought and action. The cerebral cortex is divided into four sections, called “lobes”: the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and temporal lobe.

— Cerebellum
The cerebellum, or “little brain”, is similar to the cerebrum in that it has two hemispheres and has a highly folded surface or cortex. This structure is associated with regulation and coordination of movement, posture, and balance.

— Limbic System
The limbic system, often referred to as the “emotional brain”, is found buried within the cerebrum. Like the cerebellum, evolutionarily the structure is rather old.

— Brain Stem
Underneath the limbic system is the brain stem. This structure is responsible for basic vital life functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. Scientists say that this is the “simplest” part of human brains because animals’ entire brains, such as reptiles (who appear early on the evolutionary scale) resemble our brain stem. (Source for “brain structures”).

— The Corpus Callosum

The corpus callosum connects the left and right hemispheres of the Cerebrum (Image:

The corpus callosum is a structure of the mammalian brain in the longitudinal fissure that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It facilitates communication between the two hemispheres. It is the largest white matter structure in the brain. It is a wide, flat bundle of axons beneath the cortex.

Much of the inter-hemispheric communication in the brain is conducted across the corpus callosum. (Emphasis added).

Functions Found Predominantly in the Left and Right Hemispheres of the Cerebrum

…there appear to be two modes of thinking, verbal and nonverbal, represented rather separately in left and right hemispheres respectively and that our education system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect. What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere. —Roger Sperry

Studies demonstrate that the left and right hemispheres are specialized in different tasks. The left side of the brain is normally specialized in taking care of the analytical and verbal tasks. The left side speaks much better than the right side, while the right half takes care of the space perception tasks and music, for example. The right hemisphere is involved when you are making a map or giving directions on how to get to your home from the bus station. The right hemisphere can only produce rudimentary words and phrases, but contributes emotional context to language. Without the help from the right hemisphere, you would be able to read the word “pig” for instance, but you wouldn’t be able to imagine what it is. (Source)

Left and Right Lobe Functions of the Cerebrum (Image:

Other animals with a corpus callosum

1. Afrosoricida (tenrecs and golden moles)
2. Macroscelidea (elephant shrew or sengis)
3. Tubulidentata (aardvarks)
4. Hyracoidea (hyrax)
5. Proboscidea (elephants)
6. Sirenia (manatees, dugong, and sea cows)
7. Cingulata (armadillos)
8. Pilosa (anteaters and sloths)
9. Scandentia (treeshrews)
10. Dermoptera (colugos)
11. Primates (lemurs, lorids, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys, apes, humans, etc.)
12. Rodentia (mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers)
13. Lagomorpha (hares, rabbits, and pika)
14. Erinaceomorpha (hedgehogs and gymnures)
15. Soricomorpha (shrews, moles, and solenodons)
16. Chiroptera (bats)
17. Pholidota (pangolins)
18. Cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises)
19. Carnivora (cats, lions and other felines; dogs, bears, weasels, seals, and others)
20. Perissodactyla (horse, zebra, tapir, rhinoceros, etc.)
21. Artiodactyla (pigs, camels, cattle, deer, etc.)
(List Source)

Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung’s Conception Of The Collective Unconscious (

Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms with nervous systems, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience. Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, in that the personal unconscious is a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the Collective Unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species (emphasis added).

Jung stated in his book Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious:

…in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. (Source)

Major Archetypes Discussed by C. G. Jung and Many Others

A Brief Look at the “Self:” Is There Such a Thing?

Trickster Archetype (

My main source of information in this realm is found in a scholarly book, Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life and Death, by Richard Sorabji.

Plato started a tradition of doubt about whether self-knowledge is even possible. Doubts were further discussed by Aristotle, the sceptic Sextus and the neoplatonist Plotinus. Epictetus likened the self to prohairesis or, roughly, will, which provides the basis for choice and morals. Epictetus stated throughout his work that “We are our prohairesis.”

Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna (CE 980 – 1037) saw the “essence” or soul as independent of the body. Christian religionists, and philosophers raised in the Christian tradition, also saw the soul, not the body, as “I.” René Descartes stated, “I am distinct from my body and can exist without it.” It is Descartes who famously said: cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”).

A great many philosophers and religionists have addressed the question of the self, if any. Here are the main thinkers from antiquity through the 13th Century, listed in date order by Professor Sorabji in his book:

Chapter 1 of the book is titled: The Self: is there such a thing? It is 15 pages in length and summarizes major arguments made in more recent times, from Descartes (1596 – 1650) to the present. Some of the names will be familiar to the reader, even if he or she has not read their writings: Locke, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Anscombe, Norman Malcolm, Tony Kenny, Galen Strawson, Derek Parfit, and Daniel Dennett.

Professor Sorabji admits a bias toward the existence of a self, but acknowledges difficulties in proof and cites those who disagree with him, at least in part. In any case I can find no scientific, experimental proof of a self or “The Self.”

Here is the simile that occurred to me as I read this book: each of us who refers to “I,” is like the fruiting body of a great mushroom, the mycelium of which lies deep and extensively in the earth and neighboring plants. When the mycelium reaches a certain stage of growth, it begins to produce spores  on hyphae (stalks), which are arranged into intricate structures called fruiting bodies (“mushrooms” that carry and distribute spores—seeds). (Source).


To carry the simile further, we each emerge like a common mushroom from the great mass of humanity that is the main body (God? The unconscious?) of the organism; we grow our seeds and eggs, some small portion of which will connect to form new tissue to add the main mass.

Whether or not this simile of mine is apt, there continues to be argument among philosophers on the subject of the self. In the ending page of chapter 1, the author indicates the chapters wherein he will offer disproof of what some major thinkers have opined about the existence of a self: Immanuel Kant, the Buddhist Śântideva, the Stoics, Plutarch, and Derek Parfit.

I cannot say there is or is no “self,” especially as distinct from all other living things upon which the human race depends. What I perceive is that it is a word, an abstraction, that refers to something we consider real, at least for practical purposes and, possibly, for spiritual purposes (how can I connect with God if there is no “I”?).

I leave the topic here, but will include in a final comment at the end of this essay.

The Subject of Consciousness, and of the Unconscious

In an article on consciousness in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Professor Robert Van Gulick concludes:

A comprehensive understanding of consciousness will likely require theories of many types. One might usefully and without contradiction accept a diversity of models that each in their own way aim respectively to explain the physical, neural, cognitive, functional, representational and higher-order aspects of consciousness. There is unlikely to be any single theoretical perspective that suffices for explaining all the features of consciousness that we wish to understand. Thus a synthetic and pluralistic approach may provide the best road to future progress.

In the book Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem, the author Jeffrey Gray concludes the first half of the book, thus:

The Hard Problem of consciousness can be stripped down to one (still Hard) but double-edged question: how does the unconscious brain create and inspect the display medium (qualia) of conscious perception? I call this one question rather than two because I suspect (but cannot demonstrate) that any scientifically acceptable account of how the brain creates qualia will at the same time constitute an account of how it inspects them… What is certain is that the first half of the question, ‘how does the brain create qualia?’, is enough to keep science going for a long time to come…


If the reader has followed me this far, he or she may see where I am headed: there is no absolute knowledge of consciousness. What has been shown is that the unconscious takes precedence over the conscious in our lives. In Jeffrey Gray’s book he states:

Unconscious mechanisms are responsible for the construction of the model of the external world that enters consciousness… Unconscious mechanisms are responsible also for the comparator process that either kicks of a motor program as ‘going according to plan’ or detects novelty and error…(and it is an open question whether) the correction of error by modification of the activities of the unconscious servomechanisms… is achieved in conscious or unconscious processing….

Likewise, the Clinical and Personality Psychology homepage of Uppsala University states in an article Concepts of the Unconscious:

… the present boundary between conscious and unconscious… hinges on… any percept or process that one cannot report being aware of at the time of its influence on behavior (including cognition, emotion, perception, etc.) is unconscious. This includes perception that has been conscious in the past but is not when its effects are produced.

Such scholarly texts are almost impenetrable to the layperson, but one can easily see the issues under the headings “self,” “consciousness” and “the unconscious” are not settled, either within a philosophical context or a biological context; and, that our lives are conducted more from what we call the unconscious than from the conscious. (I have not included more references to this latter assertion, and invite the interested reader to do his and her own research, including the book by Kuijsten that started my journey through this inquiry).

Finally, About Auditory Hallucinations and the “Voice of God”

Clinical studies discussed in detail in the Kuijsten book (Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness) show that in those persons, both “sane” and not, who have auditory hallucinations the voice comes from above and to the left of the person (indicating right hemisphere origin) and is always an authority figure, most often “God.” Current preliterate societies consider “hearing voices” a sacred (good, evil or benign) occurrence and take them seriously without labeling the hearer “crazy.”

Also, from “A Jungian Approach to Psychosis“:

Extensive research has been undertaken with respect to auditory hallucinations within psychiatric populations (e.g.: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, dementia, etc). In the same vein, there has been some research conducted with non-psychiatric populations, thereby indicating that auditory hallucinations are not necessarily a pathological phenomena, but part of the human experience.


Julian Jaynes has opened up a new and fascinating realm of inquiry into the human condition. I find it not unbelievable that normal, rational humans still hear voices, but suppress them because they are now considered to be unacceptably deviant. I strongly believe that we should listen to those who hear voices and interact with them politely, not as if they need drugs to be more “normal.” Maybe we can learn something from them. Maybe they are in more contact, than the “normal” we, with the great substance or spirit that lies beneath the human condition, perhaps the whole mammalian condition… perhaps God, or some of the ancient gods and archetypes?


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Get Real: What is ‘Reality,’ Really?

This is a question often discussed among people, especially during their formative years and during some parts of their formal education—or over a libation at one’s favorite watering hole.

Great thinkers have propounded their ideas on this subject, some of whom I quote immediately below, after which I will proffer my formulaic creation and solicit your ideas and arguments.

“One of the most basic realities is the definition of reality. All of the rest of philosophy depends upon it. Therefore, philosophy hasn’t gotten to the starting point until reality is defined properly. Of course, it never is.”— Gary Novak

“Reality: • noun (pl. realities) 1 the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. 2 a thing that is actually experienced or seen. 3 the quality of being lifelike. 4 the state or quality of having existence or substance.”—Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 2005.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”—Albert Einstein

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”—Arthur Eddington

I report; you decide

I report; you decide

“Reality is not protected or defended by laws, proclamations, ukases, cannons and armadas. Reality is that which is sprouting all the time out of death and disintegration.”—Henry Miller

“I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”—Groucho Marx

Now I expose the formula I have created for myself:


Measurers of things such as (some) physicists, engineers and accountants will argue there is an objective universe which constitutes reality, but one can’t get outside the universe to view it “objectively”. Therefore, we must rely on philosophers and other thinkers, including ourselves, to think it through, to use our intuition, to trust a revelation, or all of these.

I stand by my formula, above.

What say you?

Responses will appear under “Comments,” below.


Immediately after I published this article I came across a discussion of “reality” which buttresses, I feel, what I have written above. I am re-reading Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, by Peter Matthiessen. I recommend you read the journal entry of October 9, 1973 in Chapter 7, which includes this passage:

The mystical perception (which is only “mystical” if reality is limited to what can be measured by the intellect and sense) is remarkably consistent in all ages and places, East and West, a point that has not been ignored by modern science. The physicist seeks to understand reality, while the mystic is trained to experience it directly.

All are nothing but flowers
In a flowering universe

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Attempting to Comprehend Man

Several years ago, while visiting relatives in the San Jose area of California, I went to BookBuyers, my favorite used book store and, as usual, came away with a number of books I had not previously heard of. I brought them back to Stockholm to read and found one so compelling and important that I sent copies, through, to all five of my children and a few other people.

Is Man Incomprehensible to Man?

The book is Is Man Incomprehensible to Man? by Philip H. Rhinelander. Rhinelander was a popular teacher, an eminent scholar and occasional leader in various educational enterprises at Stanford University, where he worked from 1956 until retirement. He died in 1987.

Why did I find the book so compelling? I will start by quoting from his biography in Wikipedia: “In 1974, Dr. Rhinelander published the well received book, Is Man Incomprehensible to Man?, in which he covered contemporary philosophical concepts with consummate skill and clarity. This book, although no longer well known, is still relevant in the modern philosophical arena, and serves as an excellent introduction for those interested in the intersection of philosophy and the humanities.”

For me, what Professor Rhinelander has at least accomplished with this small book is to make major schools of modern philosophy more comprehensible and usefully comparable.

But my main fascination with the book is its discussion of the question in its title and, by my inference, directly related questions:

1. Is man incomprehensible to man? (If so, please show evidence of this)
2. Is man comprehensible to man? (If so, please show evidence of this)
3. By “man” does Professor Rhinelander mean “all men” (i.e. all people), or will “comprehension” be sufficient if it is possessed by philosophers, religious leaders, political leaders and other elites?

Questions number 1. and number 2. are quickly resolved, but other questions arise as a result, which I will show further below. The answer to the main question is: man is (currently) incomprehensible to man.

A little background before we get to the remaining question and the new questions.

The source of the book’s title appears to be from words written by Albert Camus, as seen opposite the title page of the book:

If men cannot refer to a common value,
Recognized by all as existing in each one,
Then man is incomprehensible to man.

Albert Camus (1913 - 1960)

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)

Major topics discussed in the book include:

  • The use of metaphor about man
  • Man’s place in the world and in Nature
  • The debasement of language and its importance
  • Classical views of man
  • Modern views of man: voluntarism, determinism and materialism
  • Man as inventor
  • Man’s search for meaning

The philosophers and thinkers whom Prof. Rhinelander favors, and whom he cites to support his arguments, include:

  • Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) whom the author refers to throughout the book and whose assertions he uses as the basis for many of his own. He was a philosopher, drama critic, playwright and musician.
  • Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) who wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. He co-authored the epochal Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).
  • Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy.

Here are others with whom he importantly disagrees:

Gabriel Honoré Marcel (1889 – 1973) was a French philosopher, a leading Christian existentialist, and author of about 30 plays. He focused on the modern individual’s struggle in a technologically dehumanizing society.

Now to the question and the argument.

If man is not incomprehensible to man, where may we find the comprehension? The answer to this question seems relatively easy. In that there are myriad philosophers, theologians, psychologists and scholars of every stripe and interest who have sometimes widely varying answers to the question of ‘What is Man?,’ one can say with some confidence that there is no consensus or “common value,” as Albert Camus looks for, quoted above.

So, why is man not comprehensible to Man? Or, a better question, perhaps, is: how can man (we) become comprehensible to man (each other)?

To answer this question, here is an excerpt from the book:

Vast amounts of new information have accumulated, especially in recent decades, from biology, biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, history, and various other sources. Yet an increase in information has not brought an increase in understanding. On the contrary, the more we know about man, the more mysterious he seems to become.

A number of writers have pointed out that one characteristic of our times is that man has become more problematical to himself than in any other age. We have several different conceptions and models of man, more or less carefully articulated, each reflecting a different perspective and a particular range of interests, but the multiplicity of disciplines and the variety of approaches have tended to prevent the emergence of any single conception of human nature sufficiently comprehensive and sufficiently flexible to provide a unifying focus.

“The Thinker,” by August Rodin (1840 – 1917)

A fundamental assertion of Professor Rhinelander in this book is that “only confusion can result if we talk about ‘man’ or ‘the nature of man’ without specifying what assumptions we are making and what we mean by such terms.”

Some people will say that man is fundamentally “good,” others will say he is fundamentally “bad,” yet others will say he is neither or both. Some scholars say that a child is a blank slate upon which his environment, starting with parents, stamps its template upon him (please accept that the masculine noun includes all people); others will say that heredity determines all; and yet others will posit a ratio of “Nurture” to “Nature” to be assigned.

Other questions about man on which there is no consensus include the question of free will: does man have it, or does he not? Some will argue in favor of determinism, other will favor free will. Yet others will say either one or the other, depending on circumstances.

Most people are unaware of the assumptions coloring their perceptions of the world and of man. This is why Prof. Rhinelander considers philosophy so important; the study of philosophy helps to reveal our assumptions (or, at least, that we all have operating assumptions) and allows us to test them against others and the objective world—if there is an objective world, and if we can perceive it objectively (some will argue on either side of these questions).

Now, how might Professor Rhinelander answer my second question at the top of this page: how can Man become comprehensible to Man?; that is, how can we become comprehensible to each other? Here are excerpts from the final few pages of Is Man Incomprehensible to Man?:

It is my belief that a unifying focus may be found if we stress man’s capacity for inventiveness, recognizing that such inventiveness is displayed not merely in man’s arts and crafts, but also in his ability to establish complex symbol systems, to make and modify social systems, and to build elaborate normative systems to guide his own behavior. The root of of man’s inventiveness seems to lie in his capacity—evidently correlated with his highly developed brain—to envisage possibilities beyond the actuality of immediate experience. Human knowledge, including scientific knowledge, reflects this capacity and depends on it.

Detail from Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

After these words Professor Rhinelander elaborates on the nature of “the scientific enterprise,” concluding that “…the ideal of scientific neutrality is itself, like all other ideals, a human invention. And like other human ideals, it is subject to abuse if its character and function are misconceived.”

Upon offering this cautionary about imputing neutrality to “the scientific enterprise,” the author finally lists four views of man that may lead to the “unifying focus” he says is needed, as the essential first step, for man to understand man.

1. Use our (“man’s”) inherent inventiveness to engage in metaphysical inquiry into the nature and coherence of our underlying preconceptions about the world, about the foundations of human knowledge, and about man himself. “We must direct our primary attention to the assumptions and patterns of analysis that we bring to all our acts of knowing and judging.”

2. “(We must) recognize the immense importance of imagination in all human activities—imagination in the sense of the ability to construct hypotheses and ideals that go beyond what has actually been observed.”

3. We must see the supposed gap between scientific activities and humanistic activities in a new light. “The familiar distinction between facts and values (should be) seen to rest on an act of abstraction that we ourselves make.”

4. Accepting the above three imperatives as a model “allows us to do justice to man’s persistent search for meaning, a need that has long been recognized by artists and writers…”

(T)he search for meaning can produce evil as well as good. As Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor pointed out: the hunger for meaning and order may become so great as to drive men to sacrifice freedom in order to escape from the burden of bewildered frustration it can cause.…I am convinced that an essential part of the remedy (to this potential evil) lies in the preservation of what Marcel calls the philosophic spirit…

Thus an understanding of man leads us necessarily to metaphysical and historical inquiry. From these we learn to live for an openness, honesty and simplicity in our human relationships and against forces of fanaticism that threaten to debase or destroy the dignity of man. This inner attitude should manifest itself in all our actions. We still profit from the legacy of Plato and Aristotle that intellectual understanding is fundamental to man and that all wise human action depends on it.

If I were a professor having just presented all the above to a class of students, I would ask them (and I do ask you, the reader): “what assumptions about human nature and the world does Professor Rhinelander have which color his perceptions and, therefore, his advice to us?”

I wish I could have been able to engage Prof. Rhinelander in a discussion about the various “types” of normal, healthy people that are found historically (by Socrates and Aristotle, for instance) and recently (by C.G. Jung and G.I. Gurdjieff, for example) throughout the world. There are “types” who are quite comfortable with abstractions and philosophical inquiry, and other types who are quite impatient with them, and even dismissive of them. I dare to say there are many more of the latter than of the former.

In order for Professor Rhinelander’s admirable ideals to be realized, countless millions of people must be willing and able to significantly change their perceived views of man and the world. I offer three examples, only, and without invidious implication, of those who must alter their views to some significant degree: those who believe, and “know” in their deepest selves, that Jesus Christ, or the Prophet Mohamed, or The Buddha have correctly propounded the way we are as humans and the way we ought to live.

When all Christians, all Muslims, all Buddhists and other believers, and non-believers, agree on the nature of man and his proper place in the universe, then we will have effectively reached the ideals that Professor Rhinelander shows us in his admirable book.

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Taking Leave of Some Teachers

The last name of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a household word in my father’s family, along with that of Gurdjieff’s major disciple, Peter Demianovich Ouspensky. I remember hearing these two strange sounding names from the mid-1940s when I was around age seven. Ouspensky died in 1947 and Gurdjieff in 1949, but their teachings remain important to a significant number of seekers and much has been written by their students, and students of these students, about them, especially Gurdjieff.

During my twenties, when I was hungry for glimpses of deeper structure and meaning in life, I began reading Gurdjieff the philosopher and psychologist, and Ouspensky the cosmologist and major explainer of Gurdjieff. I may not have pursued these writings so early and diligently had not their names been imprinted in me. I later read other explainers and interpreters of both these men because their writing is dense and, in Gurdjieff’s case, his written English is almost impenetrable to most readers.


Left, P.D. Ouspensky; right, G.I. Gurdjieff

Left, P.D. Ouspensky; right, G.I. Gurdjieff

By the time I was in my forties I had collected a large number of books about Gurdjieff and “the work,” as his legacy is known to his students, and a few by Ouspensky who was less prolific and had less of a following. I also had, and still have some, books by Rafael Lefort, Olga Arkadievna de Hartmann, Kathleen Speeth, John G. Bennett and Robert de Ropp which are, at least in part, pertinent to “the work”. And, to make even more clear what these two teachers taught I have their biographies by Colin W. Wilson.

In recent weeks I have been rereading books I have had with me for many years, some of which I will now give away, having now read them a sufficient number of times. This is how I am ‘taking leave’ of these teachers.

My last blog was written as a result of such a rereading. More recently I have reread Making a Soul by John G. Bennett, adapted from a series of lectures, including extensive responses to questions from the audience, in London, 1954, expounding upon critical elements of the writing and teaching of Gurdjieff.

Sitting in the quiet early morning of a Swedish late spring, with the sun’s light about to stream into my window at 4:15 AM, I ask myself what I have learned from Gurdjieff and all his interpreters. The one thing I will remember is that we are, most of us, most of the time ‘asleep.’ The subtitle of Colin Wilson‘s biography of Gurdjieff is The War Against Sleep. Another thing I will remember is that Gurdjieff and his followers asked good questions about the nature of man and his place in the universe. Finally, I am grateful for his having introduced me to ways of thinking and being in other parts of the world.

What I cannot now accept in his teachings is the metaphor of man as a machine. He and Ouspensky and all who followed them are steeped in the atmosphere of science and mathematics which bloomed in the first half of the 20th Century. The appeal to logic, reason and science in all these writings, no matter how much there may be an acknowledgment of a force ‘higher’ than man, is, in my view, like trying to put a previously living organism back to together after having dissected it.

John G. Bennett

John G. Bennett

Also, in Bennett’s Making of a Soul, he makes such, to me, unacceptable statements as “…the fundamental principle of all science, which is the continuity and self-consistency of the natural order”, and “…everything in the universe is built upon one common pattern.” I have an aversion to the use of the noun ‘science’ as if it were an independent agent causing things to happen or containing things that we try to discover. There is a scientific method that enables us to learn things about the universe and to make useful tools with this knowledge, but which is provisional and according to current theories, subject to revision.

Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Bennett, de Ropp and others often present linear and planar diagrams in the manner of organizational charts and systems analyses to buttress their arguments of how man and the rest of the universe are constructed and how they relate to each other. These are inevitably hierarchical in nature, where Man is higher than all other living things on earth and subordinate to unseen and variously named forces higher than him.

Bennett, however, asks a critical question: “Who am I that can say ‘my body?'” This is precisely a question asked by others whose perceptions are influenced by Zen Buddhism and by those who perceive man as part of a vibrant and dynamic whole, not separate, not ‘outside’ of himself looking at himself.

In addition to intellectual exercises, Gurdjieff and Bennett promoted music and dance as practiced by dervishes, Sufi Muslims, as a way to achieve certain understandings, as in the unity of The Whole. One can see an example of this in a film based on the book by Gurdjieff with the same title, Meetings With Remarkable Men. In the film, Bennett is briefly in a scene where acolytes in a British school for Gurdjieffian ways are dancing in presumed Sufi style. They array themselves around a diagram painted on the floor, The Enneagram.

The Enneagram is part of an ancient method of describing personality types, not dissimilar from the modern Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, based in Jungian psychology and widely used in organizations for team building and by others for self- and mutual understanding. Some scholars have asserted a relationship between the two methods.

Although fascinating and instructive, the adoption by Gurdjieff, then by others, of pieces of other cultures in The Caucasus, where Gurdjieff was born, and from parts of Western Asia such as Sufi dancing and The Enneagram, makes a kind of stew that requires endless interpretation for understanding.

As indicated in my opening words, I can now release many of the books in this realm of inquiry for others to read. I will keep some books because of their literary and historical value, and  to remind me of these former teachers who have now become friends with whom I have some respectful differences of opinion.

Books to be released:

I will keep these books:

I urge the reader to read the reviews underneath the links to these books for even more, and very interesting commentary.

As I retrieved and set aside these books for their proper distribution beyond my library, I came across this bookmark of unknown date, so I don’t know if the telephone numbers are current.  Please click on the image for greater clarity.

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Absolute Certainty

My father was a student of history. When I was in my ‘teen years he often regaled me with tales and names of the French Enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789 of which I understood little. What I retained through the years were names such as Robespierre, Marie-Antoinette, Voltaire and Rousseau. Oh yes, the “Storming of the Bastille” was also important, but obscure to me. (An aside: “…let them eat cake” was not uttered by Marie-Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI of France).

Within the last few years my delayed education in history has been improved by my reading of books about and involving the French Revolution, such as Fatal Purity: Robespierre and French Revolution by Ruth Scurr and The Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments by Gertrude Himmelfarb.

raseroNow I have come upon a book entitled Rasero. Although the word is given as the name of the main character of the book, it is not a proper noun and, in Spanish, means “leveller.” I received the book in exchange for another I gave to a correspondent in the United Kingdom. We met, online, through BookCrossing.

Rasero, by Francisco Rebolledo and translated from the Spanish by Helen R. Lane, is well-reviewed here.

The book turned out to be a page-turner for me. Through a fictional character we are introduced, intimately, with major characters in the era of The Enlightenment, and those leading to and participating in the French Revolution of 1789. The major sections of the book are entitled: Diderot, Damiens, Voltaire, Mozart, Mariana (a fictional character), Madame de Pompadour, Lavoisier, Robespierre and Goya.

The author uses a clever device to lead us into the future to see the putative results of the Enlightenment, namely, the uses of science and technology to improve, and make more disastrously efficient, warfare. The device used is Rasero’s visions of the future upon achieving orgasm, which he has with many lovely partners, but no visions with the one love of his life. Although somewhat ribald, the author’s depiction of the pleasures of the flesh are not, in my view, to the main point of the book and are offered in a pleasant, almost poetic, manner.

The voice in which the novel is written was strange to me at first. There is an omniscient observer describing to the main character what he is experiencing, and the reader is witness to this one-way conversation. “You” is constantly used by the narrator to tell Rasero how he is feeling and what he is experiencing. There is a twist on this near the end which I will not reveal.

A depiction of the event wherein the head of King Louis XVI was severed from his body by The Guillotine, his public execution having been ordered by "The Committee of Public Safety"

A depiction of the event wherein the head of King Louis XVI was severed from his body by The Guillotine, his public execution having been ordered by “The Committee of Public Safety”

The main point, I feel, is made in this passage where Rasero is hotly criticizing Robespierre for not stopping “The Committee of Public Safety” from executing Pierre Lavoisier, the eminent scientist and chemist:

Power…has corrupted you. No one has yet been born who, reaching power, is not corrupted, and you…are very far from being the exception…You’ve acquired absolute power. a power that allows you to cut off lives, the way one snips flowers in the countryside. And that power has corrupted you absolutely…

Rasero ponders elsewhere in the book that Robespierre’s vision of the correct society, one based on rational principles, is so “correct” in Robespierre’s mind that it overtakes all other considerations. Even as he is led to the guillotine to lose his own head where countless others through his agency have lost theirs, Robespierre has absolute certainty he was and is right (my emphasis).

A scholar on the subject summarizes thus:

Robespierre’s failure can be viewed as that of a man so narrow-minded in his views that eventually he cannot conceive of anything outside of them, a man so firmly convinced of his own absolute rightness that he cannot see the glaring errors he makes. It had grown inconceivable to him that anyone should oppose him successfully, and when someone did, the blow numbed him into inaction for a while. Although he started out with the best of motives, it came to the point where protection of the ideals for which he stood was everything to him, whereas protection of the people whom the ideals were originally to protect meant nothing. [Source]


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”…and let us take upon’s the mystery of things…”

An artist’s depiction of “King Lear”

A passage from Shakespeare’s King Lear provides the source for the title of A. C. Grayling’s book of essays, The Mystery of Things.

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon. (Act V, Scene 3)

William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

During a visit with my eldest daughter and her family in California, she gave me Grayling’s book of essays which she spotted at the bargain counter of the a nearby Barnes & Noble.  I was delighted to find in the Introduction to this book, published in 2004, an excerpted quotation of William Hazlitt that Grayling applies to the investigations conducted by today’s philosophers:

[They] are lost in the labyrinths of intellectual abstraction, or intricacies of language.The complaint… is not of the want of power in these men, but the waste of it; not of the absence of genius, but the waste of it… From the style which [many of them] had systematically adopted, they thought nothing done till they had perverted simplicity into affectation, and spoiled nature by art… [They] made a point of twisting and torturing almost every subject they took in hand, till they had fitted it to the mould of their own fancy… Their chief aim is to make you wonder at the writer, not to interest you in the subject; and by an incessant craving after admiration, they have lost what they might have gained with less extravagance and affectation.

This quotation (edited for brevity here) states much better and with much more clarity some points I was trying to bring forward in my web log entry of 11 February this year, What is an Intellectual, Really?

This immediately endeared me to the author and I eagerly went forward into sometimes daunting, always interesting, territory.

Anthony C. Grayling of Oxford and the University of London

The book presents 53 essays, by my count, divided under three headings: “A Miscellany of Arts,” Aspects of History,” and “Spectating Science.” In that there are 223 pages devoted to the essays, this averages to 4.2 pages per essay. I like such brevity. Where the essay is longer than the average, there are sometimes passages of poetic beauty, or at least a display of words that is beautiful in itself. Art, history and science. What a feast!

I marked many passages I thought I could discuss here, but there are too many. I’ll focus on only a few of the essays.

In Alberti and the Renaissance, Grayling mentions the book On Painting by Leon Battista Alberti, a man who greatly influenced Leonardo da Vinci. I have resolved to get this for Eva as perhaps useful, possibly inspirational, to her in her artistic pursuits.

In Art and Nature, author Grayling mentions “Two Cultures,” the first of several times he cites the author, C.P. Snow, throughout these essays. The two cultures referred to are the sciences and the humanities between which, Snow argued, the breakdown of communication between them was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

In Wagner and Philosophy, we learn that the composer “underwent a transformation” upon reading the philosopher Schopenhauer, and found the libretti he wrote for his “Ring Cycle” was saying…

“… what Schopenhauer had made clear to him: that the world is an illusion, that the underlying reality of things consists of a metaphysical striving and yearning that can never be satisfied except from release from existence altogether.”

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

Among the many cogent observations within the essay The History of Science Grayling puts Aristotle firmly in his place. This was a welcome elucidation because I had recently come across Isaac Newton‘s disrespectful opinion of him, as recounted in my article of March 11th, 2009 . In that Aristotle’s name was a household word in my youth, this was a surprise to me. Aristotle was, after all, Alexander the Great’s tutor, among other more philosophical accomplishments. Here is what is said of Aristotle’s work in Grayling’s essay (excerpted and edited):

[T]he publication of Copernicus’s book (De Revolutionibus Orbium CoelestiumOn the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) and [Enrico] Fermi’s experiments [in the 1930s and 1940s] with the atom were immense not just in science’s history but in the history of the world. They are thus natural markers for the period of modern science’s first major growth. And yet progress in science has been even more stupendously rapid since 1942 [the date Fermi’s atomic pile “went critical”]. What a contract to the almost-nescience of the Aristotelian intellectual hegemony prior to the Renaissance, when science had been stalled for 2,000 years along a wrong track first laid by that same Aristotle!

However accomplished Aristotle was in philosophy and other arcane pursuits, his physics was hopelessly grounded in faulty assumptions. He propounded that the universe was comprised of five elements:

  • Fire, which is hot and dry.
  • Earth, which is cold and dry.
  • Air, which is hot and wet.
  • Water, which is cold and wet.
  • Aether, which is the divine substance that makes up the heavenly spheres and heavenly bodies.

So, for 2,000 years scientists were anchored to this misleading view.The essay goes on the recount Isaac Newton’s contributions, Alessandro Volta’s battery, Max Planck’s quantum theory, Albert Michelson’s and Edward Morley’s electromagnetism, Wilhelm von Röntgen’s X-ray, J.J. Thompson’s electron, and many others since the 1900’s whose names are familiar, especially those involved in the “Copenhagen Interpretation.” A following essay, Quantum Possibilities includes further reference to the Copenhagen Interpretation:

According to the great Richard Feynman, no one really understands quantum theory. It presents us with a truly bizarre picture of reality, a picture that, for a long time, we have only succeeded in making intelligible by supposing that the existence and character of reality depends on our own minds. This view is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation (named after the work of…Niels Bohr and his colleagues) and it mightily offended [Albert] Einstein, whose robust realism could not accept that the universe is somehow dependent on our observations of it…

This Fifth Solvay, Brussels, Conference on Quantum Mechanics, 1927, had seventeen Nobel Prize winners and was the beginning of the Bohr-Einstein debates, wherein Albert Einstein challenged the standard or Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Now, for one last blast at Aristotle, I quote from the essay Galileo and the Vatican, Newton and Alchemy:

Galileo not only made discoveries of the first importance in astronomy and physics—especially in the laws of motion, thus breaking the stranglehold of Aristotelian ideas…

The last seven essays in the book are fascinating looks and speculations that include on what it is to be human and to be conscious, whether there is life on other planets and what the future of humanity may be.

Excerpt from Consciousness:

Three centuries ago René Descartes declared that the problem [of consciousness] was best solved by being ignored, and there are some philosophers today who agree with him. They argue that the supreme difficulty of the problem is a result of the fact that the human mind just isn’t built to understand its own basis—rather like the impossibility of an eyeball seeing itself…

Alan Watts’s answer to this conundrum resides in a non-scientific realm:

“God is the Self of the world, but you can’t see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can’t see your own eyes, and you certainly can’t bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding. “[Source]

In Science and Anti-Science, Grayling touches upon a concern of mine, expressed in my journal entry of March 4 of this year, Scientism, Secular Humanism, Hubris:

… [C]ritics charge science with ‘imperialism’ and ‘reductive undermining’ of meaning, value, beauty and spirituality. But in doing so they reveal an ignorance. It is true that some admirers of science, and even some scientists, believe that science will one day provide the answer to everything. Such a view is called scientism and it is a hopeless caricature of the true nature of science, which is much more sceptical (sic) and tentative in its objectives than either its extreme admirers or its critics realise.

I have the temerity, or cheek, to argue a bit with Professor Grayling here. Note that I gave emphasis to the word ‘believe’ in the immediately previous quotation. I chafe at seeing that word in any argument that purports to be based in the scientific realm. ‘Suspect’, ‘hypothesize’, ‘guess’, ‘assume’, ‘accept’ are words a true scientist uses, in my view. But Grayling is referring to those who are misusing ‘science.’ Where I disagree with him is that almost all scientists I have met do ‘believe’ that, through the application of science, we will someday know “everything.” I believe that this conceit is very much like what Alan watts refers to (quoted above) as “the impossibility of an eyeball seeing itself.”

In the final essay, The Future of Humanity Grayling concludes on a wistful note, in criticizing the book by Martin Rees, entitled Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?:

It is more likely that some partial catastrophe will cripple us enough to delay really big catastrophes by several centuries, by throwing us back into a medieval phase (of the kind some religions yearn for)… [Rees] doesn’t include the possibility of humanity’s maturation, in growth of moral sensibility of the kind that would bring humankind together in a fraternity intent on saving itself and improving its mutual lot. For this to happen, reason and kindness would have to flourish greatly at the expense of superstition, tribalism, enmities, greed and fear—a hopeless-seeming prospect, and one therefore that Rees does not consider. And yet it remains the sole true hope for the future, which is why some of us—like the pianist still playing as the ship sinks—will not give up the theme. And we know one thing: that even if in the end the argument for reason and kindness fails, it will in the meantime have made a little bit of difference in the direction of the good.

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Scientism, Secular Humanism, Hubris

I have been more and more troubled by the hubris displayed by politicians, government officials, academicians (who, for the most part, conspicuously carry the label “intellectual) and, more recently, barons of large financial institutions, both public and private. I assert this hubris has roots in scientism and secular humanism.

In ancient Greece, hubris referred to actions which, intentionally or not, shamed and humiliated the victim, and frequently the perpetrator as well. It was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich. The word was also used to describe actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws, especially in Greek tragedy, resulting in the protagonist’s downfall. (Emphasis added). Source

Daniel Mendelsohn identifies the Greek historian’s overarching theme in The Histories as ‘the seemingly inevitable movement from imperial hubris to catastrophic retribution’. (

In drama, we see an Oedipus, an Antigone, a Macbeth, a Lear, or a Cleopatra brought to doom by excessive pride—hubris—a belief that he or she is somehow above The Fates, or in control of destiny. (Source)

I first came across the word “scientism” sometime during the early 1960s in an article in the now defunct Saturday Review of Literature. The article revealed to me the source of my discomfort with many of the scientists-to-be with whom I then associated while attending the University of California. I later also read the excellent monograph Sin and Scientism, by Jacob Needleman. The glossary offered by the PBS website on “Faith and Reason”defines scientism thus:

Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism’s single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientific worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth. (Source)

Set from “Metropolis”, a 1927 film directed by Fritz Lang

Putting one’s faith in an entity labeled “science” (which is a method and a process, not a thing) seems inevitably to lead to secular humanism:

[S]ecular humanists do not rely upon gods or other supernatural forces to solve their problems or provide guidance for their conduct. They rely instead upon the application of reason, the lessons of history, and personal experience to form an ethical/moral foundation and to create meaning in life. Secular humanists look to the methodology of science as the most reliable source of information about what is factual or true about the universe we all share, acknowledging that new discoveries will always alter and expand our understanding of it and perhaps change our approach to ethical issues as well. In any case their cosmic outlook draws primarily from human experiences and scientific knowledge. [Source]

The Sophist Protagoras, c. 490 – 420 BC

The foregoing thoughts have been burbling in my brain for many years, and they crystallized into the words you see by my reading, only a few hours ago: “A God-Shaped Hole at the Heart of Our Being//An interview with evolutionary theologian John F. Haught,” by Amy Edelstein, at this website. What is missing from scientism and secular humanism, in my view, is a sense of the transcendent, the unknowable. Man is not “the measure of all things,” as the Sophist Protagoras asserted. This is as much as to say the universe was made in man’s image. From such a conceit comes Hubris and then destruction. We see it operating now, in full view.

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