Author Topic: Hierarchy of Archetypes  (Read 5496 times)


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Hierarchy of Archetypes
« on: August 29, 2008, 02:48:15 PM »
With time and reflection I have come to the belief that the term archetype has a continuum of connotations that run from unique human psychological pattern to abstract logical forms.  When some use the term archetype I have had the sense that they could just as well have used the term pattern or motif and have simply pointed out that such and such dream or mythic content merely has the same certain characteristics as another.  At other times I have felt that the archetype or pattern identified may have something to reveal about the psyche or the brain from which it arises.

Such thoughts have lead me to wonder whether there are superficial archetypes and deep archetypes and how one might possibly distinguish between them.  Seeing two things as being red like a beach ball and a fire truck...this might suggest a common characteristic between the two objects in a dream.  But in waking life this is usually just seen as meaningless coincidence at best.  The objects, beach ball and firetruck, being so entirely separate in meaning in all other contexts, it would seem hard to make anything objectively significant about this.  Yet if I were to walk outside and see a firetruck decorated with multiple beach balls (not something I would normally expect to see) then what kind of subjective response might I feel to this timely vision?  I'm not much for the physical reality of synchronicity (I see this as a subjective experience of truth) so my practical sense would probably win the day even while I enjoyed the random novelty of such a coincidence.

Similarly with archetypes, we may perceive patterns that tie into a personal significance even across a whole series of dreams, but, in the end, these patterns melt away in their numinosity as one finds their subjective source in one's particular life experience.  So while in my personal spiritual journey I may come, for a time, to deeply value the symbol of the beach ball and the firetruck (as some numinous pairing), is this any kind of an archetypal pattern?

The above example is extreme (and meant to be) but I think that on a more subtle level, the conscious function of intuition lends an experience of "truth" (as if that were a distillable psychic quanta (qualia)) to these subjectively meaningful patterns.  The intuitives in our lives and ourselves come to value these patterns and connections that associate otherwise unassociated objects.  In the extreme form of this we may encounter the numinous presense of being behind the pairing of unlike things seen significantly as like or as one.  Certain objects or persons seem to have garnered the majority of these "projections" but are these deeper images or are they merely a reflection of the collective's subjective history and find themselves no more so priviledged in spiritual truth than other images placed onto other individuals might have been?  If both Jesus and the Buddha were a kind of landmark imaging of the ego-Self relationship finally surpassing, in conscious libido, the energy of the unconscious as a mainly fragmented, spectral reality of the Pantheon, can we evaluate one or the other symbolic individual as, on the whole, superior to the other?  Or are they the subjective solutions to the psychological problem of the cultures out of which they emerged?

I suspect that the answer to this question is always both.  That the objective practical (sensation based) understanding of the outer world provides a kind of equal and opposite field of perceptive truth that compliments the objective abstract (intuition based) understanding of that same reality.  Each field of truth has differing strengths and weaknesses but on the whole both are a pair of opposites, each relying on the scaffold of the other to hang its own meaning on.  Each scope of truth has the power to deconstruct the construct of its opposite.  But I also suspect that there are certain balanced understandings where both intuition and sensation can combine to produce something of a relative gem of understanding where a sense of the truth in either context is elegantly balanced each by the other in a more open-ended sense of connected truth.

So in evaluating the existence of the so-called archetypes, I propose that the best archetypes are those which help to explain, in some fashion, the way that the brain works in a more or less direct way.  This kind of explanation I think will come down to two types: 1) explanations in terms of the cycles of instinctual need and the satisfaction of that need and 2) explanations in terms of the form and function of the nervous system.

So in type 1) we have the energy of the biological driving the dynamic system that is the body and the brain in cycles of chemical and neuronal signals.  In type 2) we have the unique form of the brain, its qualities as an organ of memory, of differential sensory analyzer and its ability to observe and learn from its environment.  In 1) I see the source of the intentional while in 2) I see the qualities of the mechanical.  The two aspects are, of course, embodied and experience in the one organ, the brain, and the one environment, our universe, in which we live.

So to provide two examples...

In category 1) where the instinctual drives give course to needs, desires, choices and outcomes...almost any patterned imagery having to do with time is probably best considered under this category.  Even the more abstract notions of life and death are defined as particular moments or spans of time within a presumably infinite spam of the whole of time.  Mountain climbing, monster fighting, fear confronting motifs bring us through the process of the delay of instinctual gratification and its opposite, the irresistable pull of its omnipotent psychic force.

In category 2) where the patterns seem remote from time, even eternal and unchanging like, supposedly, the axioms of some psychological mathematics/geometry...we have such things as the archetypal 3/4 where things divided into 3 or 4 parts in order to constitute a whole.  As a mechanical candidate for the neuronal substructure of this we have the trichromatic color system of the human visual cortex and eye.  This is coupled with the overlapping monochromatic visual system giving a 1 + 3 component qualification of all light to the whole of the visual world.  That this mapping of the whole visual field might be used for strictly non-visual purposes is not too far a stretch if one understands the massively cross-mapped configuration of the cerebral cortex and other brain sub-organs. 

If one looks back at the history of speculation on various topics from physical forces to personality to have to wonder why a spectrum of four aspects are so often employed even when a more detailed examination of the phenomenon often suggests otherwise.  Perhaps, we unconsciously fall into a fourness due to some optimal brain functioning that simply finds an otherwise inexplicable appeal in constellating a whole into four parts.  when intuition is given the reigns to organize a welter of sensory facts, perhaps it falls back on the really four-color oppositional system of human color vision (the two pairs of opposite complimentary colors: red-green and yellow-blue).  Here it is not so much what color but the fourness of neural color differentiation (at least at one point in the organization of the neural architecture) that might provide a coordinating inner map that translates a chaotic whole into a solid quarternity of mutual opposites which is precisely what this human color differentiating system is.   

One could see the synthesis of types 1) and 2) in the choice of a preferred color suggesting that 1) there is a need to identify one's self preferentially with an otherwise objectively undifferentiable spectrum of equal qualities such that one can better and more quickly direct one's self toward a recognizable and attainable end and 2) that one finds in one's self as a timeless quality some abstraction of the physical realm that is undeniable but ineffible (like color) that will remain throughout the cycles of the demands and commands, the blessings and gifts that are the instincts.

Matt Koeske

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Re: Hierarchy of Archetypes
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2008, 04:30:57 PM »
Such thoughts have lead me to wonder whether there are superficial archetypes and deep archetypes and how one might possibly distinguish between them.  Seeing two things as being red like a beach ball and a fire truck...this might suggest a common characteristic between the two objects in a dream.  But in waking life this is usually just seen as meaningless coincidence at best.  The objects, beach ball and firetruck, being so entirely separate in meaning in all other contexts, it would seem hard to make anything objectively significant about this.  Yet if I were to walk outside and see a firetruck decorated with multiple beach balls (not something I would normally expect to see) then what kind of subjective response might I feel to this timely vision?  I'm not much for the physical reality of synchronicity (I see this as a subjective experience of truth) so my practical sense would probably win the day even while I enjoyed the random novelty of such a coincidence.

I feel much the same way about synchronicity.  When we notice synchronicities, it is a "meaningful coincidence" for us.  And they often indicate a personal off-ramp into our own mythology and unconscious process.  This afford them a great deal of value . . . which is what the physical and mental feeling of numinousness that accompanies synchronicities seems to help flag for us.  I haven't personally seen any evidence of "spiritualistic phenomenon" associated with synchronicities, although Jung and many other Jungians suggest anecdotal evidence for such.  I remain skeptical in the absence of any scientific or even first-hand evidence (or logic).

But the numinousness of synchronicities does tell us something concrete and interesting about the psyche's logic or structure, I think.  Namely, that certain meaningful association of seemingly unrelated phenomena can become heavily (and unconsciously or instinctively) valuated when their association offers the key to a systemic reorganization, a kind of minor state change.  In this reorganization of one of the psyche's subsystems of memory, what could perhaps be considered a state of "systemic flow" (of libido perhaps or action potential) or systemic efficiency is increased in a disproportionately extreme way considering the relatively few pieces that were shuffled around.  It's sort of like playing the classic video game, Tetris.  Every once in a while, you find a piece that (when properly rotated) fits perfectly into the gaps in the layers below it and acts like a key, "unlocking" or removing the clutter of those layers in one instant.  A recognized synchronicity is something like this, I think.

And like with Tetris, the key shape is provided from the Other (the unconscious), but the conscious mind does the necessary rotating and fitting (interpretation). 

What I think we can infer from this (obviously still a hypothesis) is that our psyches function like other complex, adaptive systems.  In other words, reorganizations toward efficiency and more functional interrelation of parts are "valuated" or reinforced with intense physical and emotional "rewards".  In this case, the numinous feeling of meaningfulness, is a kind of chemical/spiritual indicator that we experience when our psychic systems undergo an important interconnection of disparate parts.

[Of note is that we are talking about complex adaptive systems here, and so these "epiphanies" of organization are not necessarily (or even usually) permanent.  What synchronizes some disconnected memory complexes one day may not have the same effect or numinousness a year or a month later.  Also, adaptive systems move against the natural tendency of matter to flow toward entropy, so changes toward efficiency often have to be reinforced time and again (with some expense of energy) before they really "take".

The system of memory is constantly in flux, and constantly trying to move toward efficiency while also absorbing and "filing" massive amounts of new information.  We are literally not the same people from minute to minute.  Every bit of information changes us, if only infinitesimally.  I suspect that the identities we so cherish are often artificially fixed or stagnant.  And when we experience an "individuation event", we must let go of this illusion of stasis enough to semi-consciously reorganize our system.  Thus, the battle between the ego and the Instinctual Self is a battle between the preferred illusion of fixity the ego purports and the never-ending reorganization and fluctuation of a complex adaptive system in space-time . . . i.e., "life".]

Numinousness is typically associated with experiences of the Self . . . and this is no wonder (if we keep with the complex adaptive system paradigm of the psyche), as the Self is frequently portrayed in symbolism as a complex system motif (e.g., mandalas, sacred geometry, portraits of symmetry and order).  I have increasingly felt that numinous and spiritual experiences are almost always characterized by the feeling or intuition of efficient but complex organization or "higher order".  Complexity is, I suspect, the universal and the key ingredient to the "experience of the divine", and for naturalists/materialists like me, I think it can be seen as the unifying bridge between science and religion.  Complexity is where the feeling or experience of the divine meets material principles . . . in this case, the functioning, complex adaptive systems that we can observe ubiquitously in material nature.  This complexity is just as numinous and mysterious to us as God is . . . and quite literally, cannot be comprehended by our conscious minds.  But science (such as the study of complex systems) has developed an increasingly functional language with which to observe and study complex systems.  Much of this language currently overwhelms me (many neologisms!), but I find it exciting that we are now starting to think functionally about natural complex systems like ecosystems, the human brain, economies, and modern social "evolution".

The field is still young, and I'm not ready to dive into it yet (i.e., I expect it to become more efficient and elegant like many of the systems it seeks to study and describe), but I believe it holds great promise for psychology.  We merely have to be cautious about "early adopter syndrome" . . . as we run the risk of making a religion out of it instead of sticking with the scientific method.

As for Jung's book on synchronicity, although it is often mentioned as one of the most notable elements of Jungian thinking, I feel this is very problematic (for Jungianism in the 21st century).  It is, at best, a failed experiment or speculation . . . and I don't think it deserves significant status in the body of Jung's collected works.  Jung devotes much of the book to an attempt to find statistical data for astrological charts.  He employed the help of a statistician . . . who found that no such correlation could be proved to exist.  Additionally, Jung relies heavily on ESP research for evidence of the "paranormal", and this research has since been discredited and only is taken seriously by "true believers" today (see also Zener Cards, Ganzfeld Experiments, PSI Assumption).

On one hand, we could say it is to Jung's credit that he valued such paranormal things sufficiently to try to investigate them at all (instead of merely believing in them or dismissing them sans verification).  But, I can't help but also feel that he should have known better from the get-go.  I can almost see Fox Mulder's "I Want to Believe" poster hanging in Jung's office as he concocted his synchronicity writings.  Regrettably, this dalliance with the paranormal has attracted more people to the X-Files quest that Jung flirted with than it has dissuaded Jungians from monkeying around with spiritualistic beliefs.  Jung was not unlike many of the "German Romantics" of his age in his fascination with the paranormal (Richard Noll used this observation to insinuate more substantial association between Jung and the Nazi's than was actually warranted).  He had a life-long fascination with the occult . . . but he also made distinct (if ultimately misguided) efforts to approach occult phenomenon with scientific skepticism.  He didn't always succeed, but compared to other writers, thinkers, and people I've personally interacted with who are drawn to spiritualistic and occult ideas, Jung did manage to keep an incredibly level head regarding occult and spiritualistic phenomena.  I think it's fair to say that Jung was of two minds on these spiritualistic issues (I'm not sure these two minds match up neatly to his proposed Number 1 and Number 2 personalities described in MDR, but perhaps).

I've seen some spiritualistic Jungians (and anti-Jungians) fault or "reject" Jung based on his hesitancy to embrace spiritualistic ideas as a true believer.  This mentality basically says that Jung sought wisdom, but was not as wise as he could have been had he only tossed out his materialistic science inclination and gone whole hog for the occult.  Of course, I strongly disagree with this attitude.  I think Jung's genius was neither a matter of his penchant for materialism nor his intuition-driven desire to believe and find meaning in spiritualisms.  His genius was a matter of the unique (albeit somewhat combative) blending of these mindsets.  He was able to see and value both like no other thinker I have yet encountered.  And the true value of his theories comes from the kind of alchemical transmutations and amalgams he derived insight into by "holding the Opposites together".

This is why (with admitted bias), I feel that a true "post-Jungianism" must continue in this "alchemical" tradition and study the "monstrous Rebis" formed by the union of such Opposites as science and religion.  Jung was a great (and perhaps THE greatest) pioneer of a religion-science coniunctio (even as he denied the legitimacy of such a project) . . . of an application of skepticism and the scientific method to the spiritual and psychic phenomenon often labeled "abnormal".  When looking at his body of theory in context, we can see that he suffered from the limitations of his age.  Namely, his was an age in which positivistic, "19th century materialism" fought tooth and nail with neo-romantic, occult mysticism.  Jung was something of an alchemist trying to fuse these two things together.  But both Opposites suffer from the extremeness of polarization.  What we have seen since the "New Age" movement is that these Opposites have moved closer to one another and begun to show clear parallels.  But as they have done this, they have lost some of their extreme polarization (which we can now see is a reactionary limitation of vision in both camps as they refused to valuate the Other).

Today, complexity science, the study of artificially intelligent systems and networks, and biological sciences that incorporate complexity studies (like neuroscience and evolutionary biology) all suggest fruitful scientific approaches to what was once considered entirely spiritualistic.  The most dangerous trap for contemporary Jungians is the imagination of 19th century opposition between science (or materialism) and religion (or spiritualism) into the 21st century.  Jungians tend to be anachronistic when it comes to their understanding of science.  This anachronism began with Jung himself (as Sonu Shamdasani's biographical writings demonstrate).  That is, even in his lifetime, Jung painted the science/religion opposites in a more heavily polarized way than was necessary.  He embraced scientific data and ideas that were already seen as obsolete in those fields he borrowed them from . . . and often refused to consider more contemporary thinking from those fields.  This is most notable in his refusal to completely part ways with Lamarckism.

But even if he was in many ways a late 19th century thinker in the early to mid 20th century, I think he was still consciously addressing a problem of Opposites that for most other thinkers remained entirely unconscious or was thought absolutely irreconcilable (or one side was greatly devalued in favor of the other).   And that opposition just happened to be the very same one on which Western Civilization was largely based.  I.e., the Platonic division between spirit and matter, mind and body.  Even as these Opposites don't look exactly the same way to us today as they did in Jung's time (and we must admit that this progress is partly attributable to Jung and the energy he added to the New Age movement), we still continue to suffer from the inheritance of Platonism.  In our era, religion hasn't made significant new forays into science, but science has found itself penetrating into the sacred halls of religion and developing a new, and often more precise, language for what it observes.  And I'm not talking about pseudoscience that makes spiritualistic claims to scientific validity.  I mean that, for instance, when Jung proposed that humans had a kind of religious instinct, it was "speculative philosophy".  But now evolutionary biologists, cognitive scientists, and materialistic anthropologists (among others) are providing scientific data and reasoning that corroborates Jung's intuitive observation.

Regrettably, most of these modern scientists are chiseling away at the mystery of homo religiosus without Jung's help, as both Jung's advocates and detractors alike have characterized him as a romantic and mystic and something of a late 19th/early 20th century throwback.  Still, I feel Jung's texts hold more value in the investigation of our religious instincts than anything else yet proposed.  They merely have to be refined and updated for the 21st century (as Jung freely admitted his ideas should be by his successors . . . as good a demonstration of his scientific inclinations and intentions as any).
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