I'm not sure I follow you 100%, but just coming away from my elephant as psyche model in the left-hand/right-hand path thread
, I am also looking for a different definition of ego than Jung's "center of consciousness" metaphor.
In general I find the dream ego extremely intriguing, and my hunch is that it says a lot about what or ego or sense of selfhood is really composed of. I even suspect it is the best source of data available for constructing a theory of ego/consciousness. Not that the dream ego is the same as the waking ego or that what we see in one of these egos carries over precisely to the other. Rather, I see the dream ego as a deconstructed version of the waking ego. By "deconstructed", I mean it is ripe for analysis; it is showing its seams.
Those seams become less apparent to us while we are awake and the flow of thought seems more or less unified to us (perhaps out of habit/conditioning only). The feeling of ego consciousness while awake and in as normal state of attention (i.e., not meditating or praying or super-focused on an intense mental or physical activity) feels like our "familiar self", because that's what we are used to experiencing almost all the time. If we start analyzing this sense of self and begin to see the seams and separate components, it can feel destabilizing.
Sometime meditation and prayer have a similar destabilizing effect . . . but one usually governed by a kind of cognitive goal state characterized by positive or transcendent feelings of ego displacement. In other words, these activities can make the ego feel "larger" and more connected to some kind of greater life source. That is the "high" meditators seek . . . a kind of "out of body" consciousness where the ego is not confined to merely its random processing of "noise", but is focused on a larger dynamic system and feels connected to it.
I wouldn't consider this a delusional state, but it can be misleading if we use it as the primary model for ego displacement. What we see in psychopathologies and in dreams is, I feel, much more accurate and useful data (for determining psychic structure and function) . . . largely because it is not directed at a specific goal state. Although there is enough scientific evidence to demonstrate consistent brain regions effected by meditative states, taken from a purely neurological perspective, the individuals experiencing these states are not really "transcending" or reach a genuine spirit or God. rather, it is one of our many "tricks" of brain functionality (perhaps a spandrel that evolved to serve some alternative purpose (i.e., not to "commune with God").
But in dreams (excluding lucid dreaming, which I am not convinced is the same as "real" REM dreaming), the ego fractures into many pieces and/or exhibits extremely altered (not just euphoric/transcendent) consciousness. As you have noted yourself many times, there can be something like an "ego team" of personages in a dream. I would even expand that farther than you typically do to call some of the more "otherly" personages in these dreams equally part of the "ego team". That is, i see the personal shadow as an aspect of the ego . . . even if the Demonically-throttled aspect of the ego wants to totally disown and usually abuse the personal shadow.
On a more neuroscientific note, the growing research on the functionality of mirror neurons suggests that close identifications with others (especially where physical sensation of bodily motion is involved) is hardwired into our developing brains. In other words, who we are (ego) is always being informed and constructed by the others we perceived . . . and this takes place on unconscious (i.e., neuronal) as well as conscious (i.e., mentally aware) levels.
My stance (not unlike many postmodernists, although I disagree with them on many accounts) is that ego and selfhood are radically constructed by environment and relationship, by imitation and emulation. And, as mirror neuron research has shown, we can't resist such emulation in our brains even if we learn to curtail the outward expression of those feelings/thoughts.
So it fits with the neuroscience to see ego (as often represented by the dream ego) as a collection of personages who come to some kind of committee decision about actions. Or, like any committees, can't really decide how to act or can't agree on a strategy unanimously. Where there is more distinct conflict between these personages (really, "attitudes"), it is often default logarithms that spur choice and action. That is to say, we resort to a fallback script of thought/behavior . . . and that fallback script is usually one of habit and or Demonic/superegoic conditioning. So, it would be like, "I don't really know what to do or think or feel in this situation, but I know what I am expected to do/feel/think . . . so I will just call up that script and hope for the best."
But the underlying structure of egoic consciousness is one of diversity . . . and rather destabilizing diversity at that. that is why the Demon/superego is so appealing. It always knows just what to do and reduces (in the short term, at least) cognitive dissonance or destabilization. We almost always know what we are "supposed to do" (at least by adolescence), but the "committee" of egoic attitudes tends to undermine the "right" thing. And of course, the so called "right thing" is often not very ethical or just at all. It is just an act of conformity and reduction of cognitive dissonance.
I also suspect that the Demon's role in waking consciousness is to combat such cognitive dissonance. I'm not saying that is why there is such a psychic construct/introject as the Demon. I don't think we "evolved" a Demon to think more clearly. I think that we simply experience increased anxiety in the face of cognitive dissonance and seek for readily available remedies. The Demon is eager to oblige and offers the fastest acting drug (conformity to social expectation). But the Demon can be introjected because of typical tolerance for cognitive dissonance is so low. We feel destabilized, crazy, incapable of action or any clear thought when saddled with such dissonance. And that is not a functional, adaptive or survivable mental state to be in for very long.
And I do suspect that was part of our evolutionary design. That is, we don't need to be individually cognitively well put together, independent, fairly unrelated. We evolved to be social animals and to value sociality greatly. We evolved to live in tribes and to have our identities conditioned, constructed, and maintained by these tribal affiliations. The Demon introject is just the kind of extreme social conditioning we receive in a modern patriarchy. It is the product of massively diverse, population dense societies where a "norm" is averaged out . . . but because of the extent of the population and its diversity, that "norm" never really exists in any single individual. The "norm" of our society is an abstraction, inhuman . . . and that inhumanity allows a superegoic introject to become the Demon.
In a true tribe that is psychologically functional and adaptive, the social identity-guiding introject is not so abstracted and dissociated from the real human being. Which is to say, there is a stronger influence on identity organization from the Self system, which (unlike the Demon introject) is dynamic, complex, adaptive. Thus, in true tribes we are more inclined to see identity transformative rituals like initiation ceremonies and other celebrations of life stages and communal participation events. That is, the actions, thoughts and identities of the tribe members are constantly being reconnected to "the gods", to nature, to instinctual organizing principles.
In our modern societies, these identity organization rituals guided my participation mystique are not focused on and identity organization is left to chance. Which means, to the normalizing, superegoic Demon introject that is no friend to the Self system at all.
I don't mean to romanticize "true tribes". I'm not sure that any true tribes exist or can exists even in fairly isolated relationships to modern societies. But there are principles of identity organization still partially present in tribal communities that are directed at realigning the ever-dissociating ego (or soul) with the Self system principle of organization. I do suspect that in the premodern past, these tribes more clearly expressed and practiced such organizational rituals. And where they were effective in keeping tribe members connected to the Self principle, the tribes survived, adapted, and probably thrived. At least until the invention of various technologies radically altered the environment in which many humans lived (i.e, agriculture and then city-states and military/industrial civilizations).
I think the rise of power of the Demon (over the Self) is a byproduct of the modernization of civilization (our environmental niche). The Demon is entirely constructed by social normalizations that are especially prevalent in modern patriarchies. The Self system has really nothing to do with patriarchal, modern norms at all. It is more instinctual, "animal", and directed at dynamic adaptation.
In any case, as we see with the dream ego, it is not at all a "center" of consciousness. It can be a bystander, a bodiless observer, and "parasitic" semi-consciousness attached to a clear "other", or a whole menagerie of personages representing differentiable attitudes toward a given things, situation, or feeling. It can think and feel things that are utterly foreign to our thought process while waking (but more commonly, these thoughts are only semi-foreign). We awake from a dream to suddenly realize that we are not constricted by some absurdly limited attitude (as it seemed in the dream). Alternatively, we awake to regrettably find we do not have super powers or heroic courage and insight (as the dream ego did minutes before).
But what is the most fascinating icing on the dream ego cake is that (outside of lucid and semi-lucid dreams) we don't have any conscious power to determine how the dream ego thinks in any given dream. The sense, therefore, is that these shards of selfhood, these identity thoughts and feelings of points of consciousness and identification are "given to us from outside the ego". The dream constructs the ego and the way the ego acts and thinks . . . even as we occasionally feel like we have a modicum of conscious control over our dream personage. The characterization of the dream ego in any given dream is a product of the whole fabric of the dream. I.e., the dream ego is not a separate, conscious entity that participates in the dreamscape as waking egos participate in daily life. Dreams spontaneously and autonomously construct our sensations of consciousness and identity.
My working theory is that this is exactly what is happening in our waking states as well. We are merely habituated to the sense of "togetherness" that egohood seems to provide. So habituated that we don't even realize that that (often rather sketchy) "togetherness" is actually being given to us, being constructed for us, and we are only wearing this sense of ego like a suit of clothing.
We know (especially from studies with epileptics who have had their corpus callosum severed) that our brains manufacture, rationalize, or confabulate order or togetherness . . . and this is a cognitive task performed without any necessary consciousness. My belief is that in dreams, we can be a bit more detached from this "false" sense of rationalized togetherness. Dreams are fraught with cognitive dissonance (studies show that people consistently have more negative or high anxiety dreams than pleasant dreams). But we just can't get away with that kind of dissonance while trying to function in waking life. Instead we need to rely much more heavily on our bible of anti-dissonance scripts and rules of thumb or habitual strategies just to come close to processing that enormous amounts of information continually afflicting us.
Of course, in dreams, the outside world as information source is almost completely cut off. Take away the massive information stream, and the mind more easily (and perhaps naturally) dissociates in the partial consciousnesses, "splinter psyches" (as Jung called them), or differentiable attitudes.
What I'm saying is that the waking ego is in part a rationalized program for quickly sorting and filtering huge information deluges. Egoic togetherness or selfhood or identity is the result of an automatic subroutine that swaddles waking thought in a fairly insubstantial but superficially comforting blanket of unification.
This is what enlightenment-seekers like Zen Buddhists seek to see through. I.e., the self as illusion. I would not choose those exact terms. the self/ego is not merely an illusion. It is a necessary organ for our survival and adaptation in the environments we typically inhabit. To see through it may be enlightening, but to think we can obliterate or eliminate it is itself delusional and dysfunctional. Again, it is the elephant's trunk. We would not survive without it. And also, its cognitive components are not really an "illusion". I think the grand illusion of egohood is its waking feeling of togetherness, unity, sense of singularity.
During depression, dissolution, and various mental diseases or states of anxiety, the egoic illusion of togetherness comes apart. In fact, whenever we are confronted with something truly other/Other, the ego destabilizes. If we allow ourselves to relate to others intimately, it creates cognitive dissonance for us . . . but sometimes (as in love and attraction) the pleasure this intimacy creates far outweighs the threat of cognitive dissonance. At least temporarily.
Speaking more "spiritually" or as a student of the Work, the goal of self-reflection/-analysis is not to forcefully displace the ego, but to learn to accept the arbitrariness and "maya" of the experience of selfhood. That is, we get a trigger thought and feeling and then ask ourselves, "Why must I think that way? Who is really thinking that thought for me?" We may still choose to act on it or not, but we come to recognize that we are not forced to abide by that thought because "that is who we are". We exist among our thoughts and various attitudes in a very destabilized and incorporeal position. We are not the masters of these thoughts (such mastery is a common, and perhaps functional, delusion).
To be among these various thoughts, considering them analytically rather than wholly and immediately identifying with any one of them is, I think, like the Taoist principle of wu wei (wei wu wei = doing without doing). That is, we sit with our thoughts until we begin to discern the Self's organization principle poking through. The Demon is a conditioned response and will instantly leap to reaction. But the Self is much more subtle. It requires great patience and tolerance . . . and frankly, it's suggestions (sometimes very powerfully stated) ofet don't make much rational sense. Especially to the scripted, reactive Demon. Demon reacts in order to quickly quell cognitive dissonance. It is typically defensive and highly discriminating. The "voice" of the Self, though, doesn't seek that kind of Demonic fortification. Instead, it seeks the ongoing facilitation of its dynamic principle of organization . . . a kind of active homeostasis. And that kind of active homeostasis can be a very complex equation to calculate. No simple Demonic formulas will do. There are just too many variables (the Demon triumphs in action by eliminating almost all of the variables). the Self is more "teleological" in a long term sense. It deals with moving things around, constant reorganizations, sacrifice a little here now to gain more over there later. That's the sign of a dynamic, self-regulating system.
The Demon abhors and fears such sacrifices and movements of personality. It wants stasis. Absolute and perfect stasis, not dynamic, adaptive homeostasis. From the perspective of the Self, the egoic attitudes and identity constructions are movable parts that serve ultimately the self-regulation of a dynamic system. But to the Demon, the multiple selves of egohood are an incredibly dangerous and threatening weakness that invites all kinds of cognitive dissonance. The Demon wants to hold down the fort and kill off all threats to absolute stasis and predetermination of all thought and action (i.e., via conformity to norms). The Demon is radically (and somewhat psychopathically and infantilely) afraid of "penetrations". Penetration means change, means being affected by something "not-I".
The ego is caught in between these two powerful (and incompatible) psychic organization principles (Demon and Self). And the Demon has a lot more sex appeal. It takes a hero (by my standard definition of that term) to oppose the Demonic principle of defensive stasis in favor of the Self's dynamic principle. It is the hero that is the classic archetype of the individuant, because s/he chooses the dynamic Self principle over and against conformity to Demonic social norms. It can feel (subjectively) like choosing something divine and mysterious/unknown against all outside, social pressures. Religious experience is sometimes characterized by this (I would more precisely say "mystical" experience) . . . but religion can also be (and usually is) about indoctrination and conformity to a specific (perhaps more tribal) norm. An even better metaphor for the heroic attitude toward the Self can be seen in the archetype of romantic love. Romeo and Juliet defy their kin's warring houses.
The problem is that romance of that kind ends in death (i.e., in Coniunctio) . . . a state of dissolution that reaches a "prima materia" or dynamic/fluid place from which personality can rebuild in a way compatible with the Self's dynamic principle. That Coniunctio/death is (from the persepctive of the old and more Demonically determined ego) utter uncertainty about being (at least at first). There is no answer to "who am I" that is easily given by a set of Demonic scripts. Selfhood is always ongoing as a creative and adaptive process. And like Lord Voldemort, there is nothing the Demon fears more than utterly penetrating and wholly transformative death. the heroic (and Self-imbued) attitude toward death is that it is a passage. But to what? There is no knowing (even with "psychic" or initiatory death). One can never know with any certainty. It's a gamble to wrap yourself up into a chrysalis. Will you emerge with wings or be killed while you can't defend yourself? The Demon would never take such a risk. Only a Fool would.