Author Topic: The Super-Adaptive Instinct  (Read 8784 times)

Matt Koeske

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The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« on: June 17, 2007, 01:55:08 PM »

I am excerpting some of my recent writings in other posts about the theory of a "super-adaptive instinct" that could be seen as an ego-making and regulating instinct.  These writings do not yet constitute a thorough investigation of this possibility, but I can see that the theory deserves its own topic . . . and that I will continue to write about it and test it out against other possible explanations of the phenomena that led me to posit it initially.

There is (in addition to to the connection to the alchemists' Mercurius as mentioned below) a precedent in Jung's writing: the transcendent function.  I have always found Jung's writing about the transcendent function a bit muddled and inconsistent . . . and sometimes too mystical for my taste (it is purely phenomenological, mostly lacking a rootedness in biology, and is therefore spiritualistically formulated).  But it seems we are probably talking about the same phenomenon.  My main sticking point (or differentiation/clarification from Jung's transcendent function) is that the super-adaptive instinct is an instinct.  It is biological.  It evolved.  It's seeming spirituality (or "transcendence") comes from its close association with ego-formation.  I.e., the ego is an abstract organ of consciousness that tends to spiritualize psychic and biological libido.  In essence, the ego takes instinctual libido from the unconscious and projects its anthropic abstractness into it, creating the phenomenon of spirit.

So, in my terms, I would say that the super adaptive instinct is a "spirit-making" instinct . . . and not spirit itself.

From Daryl Sharp's Lexicon:
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Transcendent function. A psychic function that arises from the tension between consciousness and the unconscious and supports their union. (See also opposites and tertium non datur.)

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When there is full parity of the opposites, attested by the ego's absolute participation in both, this necessarily leads to a suspension of the will, for the will can no longer operate when every motive has an equally strong countermotive. Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them. This function arises quite naturally from the regression of libido caused by the blockage.[Ibid., par. 824.]

The tendencies of the conscious and the unconscious are the two factors that together make up the transcendent function. It is called "transcendent" because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible.[The Transcendent Function," CW 8, par. 145.]

In a conflict situation, or a state of depression for which there is no apparent reason, the development of the transcendent function depends on becoming aware of unconscious material. This is most readily available in dreams, but because they are so difficult to understand Jung considered the method of active imagination-giving "form" to dreams, fantasies, etc.--to be more useful.

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Once the unconscious content has been given form and the meaning of the formulation is understood, the question arises as to how the ego will relate to this position, and how the ego and the unconscious are to come to terms. This is the second and more important stage of the procedure, the bringing together of opposites for the production of a third: the transcendent function. At this stage it is no longer the unconscious that takes the lead, but the ego.[Ibid., par. 181.]

This process requires an ego that can maintain its standpoint in face of the counterposition of the unconscious. Both are of equal value. The confrontation between the two generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third essence.

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From the activity of the unconscious there now emerges a new content, constellated by thesis and antithesis in equal measure and standing in a compensatory relation to both. It thus forms the middle ground on which the opposites can be united. If, for instance, we conceive the opposition to be sensuality versus spirituality, then the mediatory content born out of the unconscious provides a welcome means of expression for the spiritual thesis, because of its rich spiritual associations, and also for the sensual antithesis, because of its sensuous imagery. The ego, however, torn between thesis and antithesis, finds in the middle ground its own counterpart, its sole and unique means of expression, and it eagerly seizes on this in order to be delivered from its division.["Definitions," CW 6, par. 825.]

The transcendent function is essentially an aspect of the self-regulation of the psyche. It typically manifests symbolically and is experienced as a new attitude toward oneself and life.

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If the mediatory product remains intact, it forms the raw material for a process not of dissolution but of construction, in which thesis and antithesis both play their part. In this way it becomes a new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the opposites into a common channel. The standstill is overcome and life can flow on with renewed power towards new goals.[Ibid., par. 827.]

...

Tertium non datur. The reconciling "third," not logically foreseeable, characteristic of a resolution in a conflict situation when the tension between opposites has been held in consciousness. (See also transcendent function.)


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As a rule it occurs when the analysis has constellated the opposites so powerfully that a union or synthesis of the personality becomes an imperative necessity. . . . [This situation] requires a real solution and necessitates a third thing in which the opposites can unite. Here the logic of the intellect usually fails, for in a logical antithesis there is no third. The "solvent" can only be of an irrational nature. In nature the resolution of opposites is always an energic process: she acts symbolically in the truest sense of the word, doing something that expresses both sides, just as a waterfall visibly mediates between above and below.[The Conjunction," CW 14, par. 705.]


From my post in "A Primer on Dreams" (by Piero Scaruffi):
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For instance, Scaruffi writes:
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at the end of the 19th century the British neurologist John Hughlings Jackson realized that a loss of a brain function almost always results in the gain in another brain function. Typically what is gained is heightened sensations and emotions. Jackson, virtually a contemporary of Darwin, explained this phenomenon with the view that the brain's functions have different evolutionary ages: newer ones took over older ones, but the older ones are still there, we just don't normally need to use them as the newer ones are more powerful. When we lose one of the newer features, then the older features of the brain regain their importance. Jackson had the powerful intuition that a single process was responsible for a "balance" of brain states.

This is not unlike the most recent installment of my growing theory that I have called the "super-adaptive instinct" (I wrote about this in the Anima Work forum).  Of course Jackson's notion is a more general and neurological one than my psychological adaptation of it.  With the super-adaptive instinct, I am proposing that "newer" brain functions (here, specifically I am thinking of an "instinct" for ego-development) don't so much "take over" older ones in an eclipsing sense, but in a coordinating sense.  So, the super-adaptive instinct is the coordinating instinct that organizes and utilizes the other, more archaic archetypal instincts (that Jung was mostly concerned with), putting them to use with the idea of adapting them to human social living (and the cognitive niche, our informational evolutionary environment).

It is therefore the super-adaptive instinct that is behind the "re-manufacture" of the ego when the ego's prevailing strategies have proved maladaptive (and a neurotic complex has formed).  The super-adaptive instinct is what the alchemists called, Mercurius, the transmutational spirit of the Work.  It is what "dissolves" the maladaptive ego (the Mercurial Bath).  But also what drives it to find a more conscious and functional connection to the Self.  Like Mercurius, it is the instinct behind all consciousness-making that wills the organism toward equilibrium/adaptivity with its environment.


From my post on "Defining Archetype (as Instinct)":
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I have recently proposed a mostly human instinct (uniquely human perhaps in its degree rather than in its basic form or purpose) that I call the "super-adaptive instinct".  My theory is that this is the instinct guiding individuation, and that it evolved as part of our extremely dualistic consciousness (the severely dissociated ego and Self).  The super-adaptive instinct would be a coordinating instinct that channels other more primal instincts (i.e., the animi and hero) in the establishment and ongoing reconstruction of the ego.  Therefore, the super-adaptive instinct attempts to reconstruct the ego in such a way that it (the ego) can adapt both to the instinctual needs of the organism (the Self's Will or libido) and to the social/environmental needs of the organism (culture/sociality).  I call it "super-adaptive", because it works very much like evolutionary adaptation (adaptation to an environment or niche), albeit without the constraint of extremely slow genetic mutation.  It "mutates" ego strategies at the "rate of thought" (more specifically, the mental and emotional processing of complex experiences) rather than at the rate of genetic mutation.

The super-adaptive instinct is something like an advance in software, taking advantage of the powerful hardware of the human brain.  It is software that can only run on hardware as advanced as this, and has been enabled or potentiated by this advanced hardware.  I use this analogy, because this scenario is fairly common in contemporary computer technology where hardware frequently restricts the potential of software development.  The super-adaptive instinct is a very complex program, perhaps something like an operating system that must host an coordinate other, older, simpler instincts.

And the comparison to the ever-buggy Microsoft Windows OS is really quite apt . . . especially when we consider the onslaught of service packs and updates required to make the damn thing work properly (or "adapt").  I.e., the ego (that thing inspired by the super-adaptive instinct's relationship to the environment) is flaky and breaks down pretty easily.  The blue screen of death.  The recent personified Mac vs. PC commercials give a clever advertising twist on the theme of adaptability.  I.e., they suggest that the PC is a proverbial dinosaur, that it's maladaptive in comparison to the Mac.  Therefore (in line with actual human psychology), the personified PC is always exhibiting a slew of neurotic symptoms.

Of course the super-adaptive instinct would fit into the analogy above as the Will that seeks to create a PC (or Mac) that is adaptive and high-functioning and can respond to the demands placed on it by the environment . . . rather than the specific end-product.  Microsoft's design and sales goals are like ego's neurotic complexes that seem to hold back the adaptivity or functionality of their OS.  They would represent deviations from the Will of the super-adaptive instinct.

My belief is that the postulate of such an instinct is necessary, because the animi, hero, and other instincts do not account for all of the instinctual impetus behind ego/Self relationships.  That is, if the animi represent (to state it reductively) mating instincts, I couldn't see why this would require the kind of increase in consciousness that individuation inspires.  Therefore, it seemed to me that the mating instinct had to be harnessed to another instinct (the super-adaptive instinct) in order to channel instinctual libido into individuation.  And as we can see quite clearly in alchemical symbolism (Sol and Luna uniting), the individuation process definitely harnesses sexual drives at least in its initial stages.  Anyone who has been seized by the anima or animus understands this implicitly.


From the second chapter of my "Anima Work" memoir:
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The human mania for controlling and adapting the environment to the species is an ego-mania.  That is, it devalues the natural and the Other in order to serve the short-term desires of ego-comfort.  But we should also consider the likelihood that the evolutionary environment of the ego (human consciousness) is an informational environment of sociality and "collective knowledge".  Such an environment can grow at an enormous rate . . . and we are faced with the task of adapting to it.  Previous attempts (throughout recorded history) to control the informational environment by totemizing ideas and beliefs have never paid off in the long-term (as they create heresies and rebellions).

And this is precisely what I see as problematic in neo-tribalism.  Yes, it "feels" right . . . but it cannot be recreated without massive destruction of otherness and loss of modern freedoms (think fascism).  And even if such a totalitarian system is established, it will probably prove unsustainable.  People don't want to give away all of their individual freedoms and diversities (as Utopianisms tend to require).

Therefore, I believe we would do better to concentrate our efforts on adapting ourselves to the modern world rather than on trying to make the modern world conform to our unconscious gravity toward tribal equilibrium.  Forming subcultures and cults and sects within modern society is equally as ineffective as totalitarian "state-tribalism" (as a "solution"), because this divorces the individual from a more global citizenship, and therefore from any responsibility to Others who fall outside the cult's indoctrination net.  This would insure that those tribes that realize they can seize power because other tribes are either "not looking" or are too insular or weak to resist (not possessing a sufficient strategy for dealing with Others) will be able to do so.  This is in fact precisely what happened when we first moved out of tribalism . . . and is still the state of the world today.

I digress on this issue, not only because it is (I think) highly relevant to Jungian thinking and because we have recently been discussing tribalism, but also because I believe the solution I suggested (but of course did not outline) of adapting our consciousness to modern society rather than our societies to our consciousness is precisely what the Work is oriented to.  To be called to the Work is to be called to make a significant adaptation.  One can no longer adapt to one's environment with one's preexisting ego-strategies, therefore these ego-strategies must me reworked, perhaps even radically . . . in order to become adaptive. 

Here a mediating intelligence is necessary in order to find equilibrium with the environment.  This mediating intelligence is "individuated consciousness", that consciousness which recognizes that the ego-strategies are arbitrary and composed of self-protective affiliations that were unconsciously adopted from social institutions and other totems.  My belief is that this individuated consciousness is every bit as much an instinctual process as that which pulls us toward tribal unconsciousness (participation mystique).  It also is a drive to achieve a state of equilibrium.  But whereas the tribal instinct seems to belong to the evolutionary environment we were in when we existed as hunter-gatherers in prehistoric times, the instinct for individuated consciousness perhaps belongs more to the innovative consciousness (that has been responsible for bringing us into a position of speciesist dominance on this planet).

Human consciousness is "super-adaptive".  It is not imprisoned by the rate of genetic mutation that largely determines the adaptability of other species.  We can use mental paradigms, forethought, reasoning, and abstract knowledge transmission to adapt at a radically accelerated rate to rapid shifts in our environments.  This super-adaptive neocortex (and other "egoic" brain modules in coordination) has such enormous plasticity that it can stretch to adapt the organism to an extremely wide range of environmental conditions.

But its ability to stretch in this sense, its plasticity, is by no means a requirement to stretch unnecessarily.  I believe it is environmentally based . . . or adaptive.  That is, it will adapt to its environment (perhaps by adapting its environment to it) as such adaptation is necessary.  In other words, we humans are different beings in different kinds of environments.  And as our environments are largely the product of our sociality, these environments will be determined by the kinds of social groups we form and exist in.  So we are equally human in small hunter-gatherer tribes, in larger agricultural collectives, or in modern global societies . . . but we are in some sense, different kinds of humans in each environment.

The reason we can manage to achieve this is because we have this super-adaptive consciousness we call the ego.  The ego itself is an evolutionary adaptation.  My theory is that the instinct that drives ego-development is at least in part a super-adaptivity instinct.  What I call the Work is an indenture to this particular instinct, which can be (and is "intended" by evolution to be) used as a mediator between the collective human instincts (Jung's collective unconscious) and our complex, ever-fluctuating informational environment.

Of course the ego is always put in this position as mediator, but it generally "comes of age" in as simplistic a way as possible, adapting first to an informational environment that is the environment of our childhood (parental environment) and adolescence (peer environment).  This intensely peer-oriented environment is much more tribal than larger, more "adult" society with its numerous obligations.  Anyone who can think back to their adolescent school days should be able to instantly recognize the tribal structure with all its totems, taboos, pecking orders, hero-"shamans" (in-crowds, athletes, musicians . . . that might give way in the later adolescence of our college days to thinkers, artists, philosophers, ideologues), and such.  It's a time of heavy, perhaps even imprisoning, social conditioning.  It is the time in which the majority of our knowledge and language skills are developed and most of our core ideas and ego-strategies are formulated.

Perhaps the tension between tribal group formation and modernism is increased because we live in what is effectively an adolescent society in which adolescent tribalism is not (percentage wise or for the "average individual") an extremely effective strategy in the adult society of innumerable, intertwined tribes (or, if you prefer, tribelessness).  What we experience as a "midlife crisis" or an earlier break-down in adaptivity is generally, I think, the feeling that our adolescent strategies have failed us.  [My own were so maladaptive that they failed at the tail end of my adolescence.]

And this is precisely where the Work comes in handy.  It is also the situation in which we see the animi first appear.

The animi instinct is the instinct that moves us out of adolescence and into an adulthood of greater responsibility and more complex sociality.  This is largely achieved by reorienting our approach to the unconscious, our instinctual center.  Whereas in adolescence and childhood, we could maintain an unconscious, unintentioned relationship to our instinctual drives, as our social structure becomes more complex, diverse, and demanding, this pure unconsciousness is no longer adaptive.  We can't merely turn to the unconscious for providence and expect it to always provide.  It does not adapt at the speed of information in adult human society.  That is, it cannot "snap its fingers" and undo an ego-strategy that was maybe 15 years in the making.  The process of revising and reworking our ego-strategies requires conscious attention, a kind of coordination between unconscious instinctuality and conscious super-adaptivity.

The animi are the figures that are empowered by the unconscious to woo the ego away from adolescent ego-strategies and a providential dependence on the unconscious and toward the super-adaptive instinct on which the ego is evolutionarily founded.  This shifting of libido-directedness utilizes what is in effect a "transitional object" or transitional personage, the anima or animus archetype.

What I suspect is happening with this archetype is really quite fascinating and elegant.  In many mammals, a mating instinct kicks in after a particular age and during a particular season . . . and the animals are compelled to mate.  What seems to be happening with the animi is that the human "mating instinct" is not entirely determined by environment, but is being adapted by another instinct (the super-adaptive instinct of consciousness), to stimulate an intensive ego-restrategization for improved adaptation to an adult social environment.

What we see in the animi is the pull of erotic attraction away from the parents and toward the partner.  In this sense, it is like the mating instinct of other animals that signifies (in those species) the movement from adolescence to adulthood.  But there is more going on in our species than merely a libido shift from the parent to the partner.  We know this because the animi (at least later in their development, as I'll cover in a subsequent chapter) pass through an intensely erotic phase and into a phase in which they serve as the envoys of the Self, or that center of instinctuality that is what needs to be adapted to the social environment to achieve equilibrium with that environment.  That is, we know that the animi prove to be ultimately adaptive, or to be representations of the super-adaptive instinct.  The libido-directedness moves from the parental (and the child/dependent's perspective of the providential unconscious) to the erotic, mating-partner (which is projected outward onto other suitable "hosts"), to the Self, which is a new inwardness.  The resultant inwardness of the libido tells us that this is not merely a projective, mating instinct.

Which seems to indicate that there are overlapping instincts at work here.  One is a more or less conventional mating-instinct while the other is a super-adaptive instinct that helps re-orient the ego-strategies to both the Self and the outside environment (eventually).  We perceive (phenomenologically or experientially) that the animi give way to the Self . . . and that the super-adaptive instinct imbues and directs the animi archetype through its transitional phase.  That is, the animi are temporary and transitional representations of the Self . . . but the super-adaptive instinct is always there, but only temporarily harnesses the animi for its adaptive purposes.

It is in this sense that we get the conventional Jungian notion that the animi are the gatekeepers of the unconscious.

There are just a few little points I'd like to clarify before concluding this chapter.  First, I don't want there to be any unnecessary confusion with this new term I introduced: the super-adaptive instinct.  In general, I hate to introduce such terms.  They beg abstraction and can all too easily fall into misuse as "power words" or words that are granted a numinous totem.  We see these power words used constantly in philosophy (especially in postmodern and poststructuralist philosophies).  We also see them in religious and occult mysticisms.  These power words are meant to be obfuscating.  they are words that tell us that something is totemized and imbued with numen . . . but they tend to cloud the elemental nature (or lack thereof) of what they are supposed to be designating.  In essence, they are substantively meaningless, but their totemic nature makes them attractive as buzzwords and jargon.

In general, Jung was outstanding for not succumbing to this intellectualist temptation.  His terms are very tangible for the most part.  He always borrowed or adopted good, concrete terms and usually refrained from abstract, unnecessary neologisms.  This is why I am committed to preserving Jung's language as much as possible, even as I feel it necessary to revise some of his ideas or slightly redefine some of his terms.

The most important thing to understand about this term "super-adaptive instinct" is that is equivalent neither to 1) the ego, nor to 2) the Self.  As far as I know, there is no Jungian term to represent what I mean here [see notes on the transcendent function above . . . and a later differentiation will follow].  Not even Edinger's "ego-Self axis" is precise or biological enough for what I mean to represent.  The super-adaptive instinct is the specific evolutionary adaptation (or set of adaptations) that allowed our species to develop "ego-consciousness" as a tool to make fast adaptations to our complex, overwhelming, information-rich, social environments.  The instinct is a tool that is not used or does not manifest in one absolute way.  It is perhaps "conceptually adaptive".  One of its major components is innovation, the intelligence that allows us to see novel uses for various things.  But it is not entirely equivalent to innovative intelligence, because its "evolutionary purpose" is to adapt the organism to its environment (which doesn't always or constantly require innovation).

By contrast, the ego is an abstract construct of a coherent sense of self that functions primarily in working memory.  It is a product of the super-adaptive instinct . . . but not its absolute representation.  The super-adaptive instinct is a kind of ego-founding process, but it does not determine the make-up of the ego.  The make-up of the ego is determined by (typically) unconsciously adopted strategies meant to protect the coherence of the sense of self.  Again, these are usually strategies that are appropriate to working memory limitations . . . and may therefore prove insufficient when long-term strategies are required.

The super-adaptive instinct is the instinct that pushes the ego toward better, more flexible, more adaptive strategies . . . especially when unconscious strategy formation proves inadequate.

In a similar sense, the super-adaptive instinct is not equivalent to the Self, but it must be oriented to the Self.  It is responsible for pushing ego-strategy formation toward an adaptive state, one in which equilibrium with the environment is possible.  That is, the Self seeks to be in equilibrium with the environment and the ego is the strategic mediator that is meant to enable this . . . but the super-adaptive instinct is the process that tries to makes this all work functionally and adaptively.

So, where in the world of phenomena might we see the representation of this mysterious, new-fangled "super-adaptive instinct"?  Well, there is one super-excellent example that comes immediately to mind (and here is the circle completed . . . you thought I forgot what this chapter was about, didn't you?  (-)idea(-)).  The mercury of the philosophers.  Mercurius, the liquid metal that takes on innumerable forms, goes through many transmutations.  The "spirit of the Work".  Mercurius is the constant-ever-changing of the alchemical opus.  It is the lapis and the prima materia.  It is Sol and also Luna.  It is the dissolving bath and also the fire.  It is poison and also the elixir.  It is why every term in alchemy seems to be somehow equivalent to every other term . . . but differentiated by the circumstance in which they are employed.

So what was happening in my inaugural anima dream was a transfusion of the mercurial, super-adaptive instinct that replaced my regular blood with Mercurius.  In other words, the introduction to the Work, which is governed by the super-adaptive Mercurius.  The component of poisoning, stillness, paralysis, death brought on by the transfusion predicted a period of severe introversion of libido and depression (dissolution of the ego).  It is only under this dissolution, this slowing, that one can deconstruct the prevailing ego-strategies (or submit them to dismemberment at the hands of Mercurius).  One can no longer abide merely by working memory and the automated response system of the ego.  That is, the ego doesn't seem to work effectively anymore, no longer seems reliable (and we know, for instance, that depression reduces working memory ability).  It is being unraveled, dismembered, dissolved in the mercurial bath.


From my post on "Spirituality for Skeptics":
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The hard path is the gnostic path.  This is the path that demands one either adapt human instinctuality to modernity or "die out".  One might argue that cultism and tribalism are merely forms of "dying out", but obviously cult and tribe members wouldn't see it this way.  In fact, the tribal belief system holds that the tribe will become ascendant and empowered in the larger society . . . usually because of its special grasp of "sacred wisdom" or "divine love".  The tribe hopes to profit from its tribalism . . . but since it has not employed long-term strategic thinking (which is generally foreign to tribes), it has probably not sufficiently understood the real relationship of the tribe to the larger society and its many other sub-tribes.  The tribal mentality counts on its unity and "Truth" to succeed in the larger world.  This is the instinctual fall-back position (probably because we are still genetically hunter-gatherers).  The kind of directed thinking required to formulate long-term strategies and adapt to complex, new environments is a novelty in the tribe . . . and usually a dangerous one at that (see the discussion of Shamanism for more on that subject).  Such novel thinking steals libido or Eros away from the tribe's participation mystique.

But this gnostic consciousness is precisely what is needed to adapt today and face the Problem of the Modern.  This is a two-way kind of thinking, as it must address instinctual needs (that cannot be repressed or ignored without sparking some sort of disease) while simultaneously addressing environmental demands.  The gulf between these two things in the modern world is vast . . . and the ego must be "trained" and stretched extensively in order to achieve the plasticity required to bridge such a gulf.  We are faced with an instinctual dilemma.  Modernity does not favor unconsciousness, except in its largest, most powerful tribes.  In order to adapt successfully, we have to individually learn how to first recognize and then negotiate with our tribalistic gravity.

But establishing a strong relationship with the Self means devoting oneself to living in the world, or to adaptivity (the super-adaptive instinct).  The Will of the Self will encourage adaptation.  This Will seeks equilibrium with whatever environment we must exist in.  That is, it tries to survive in/adapt to any environment as successfully as possible.  As most of us are forced to live in the modern world, the Self's adaptive Will will seek equilibrium with the modern, information-deluged environment.  Many of us will retreat (often numerous times) to the shelter of tribes where we can find temporary solace in unconsciousness and participation, but these tribes will eventually have to face modernity in one form or another.  Perhaps they will become internally divisive (because they cannot respond to diverse individuality), or perhaps they will suffer financial burdens from without, or perhaps the leadership of the tribe will retire, die, or "crack up".  Modernity will always be a wolf at the door.

In general, we find that our tribes fail us.  They comfort us for a while, but they don't help us adapt.  Their tribal religions or ideologies do not address the individual's plight, the Problem of the Modern.  And gradually, we are either defeated or forced to learn an individualist spirituality.  Such a spirituality is an undertaking so massive that few succeed in formulating one . . . let alone an adaptive one.

I think Jung's psychology was an excellent attempt at such an individual's spirituality.  For Jung, it seemed to work pretty well.  But he was, of course, Jung and not a Jungian . . . and rightfully thankful for that blessing.  In other words, Jung had his cake and ate it, too, because he got to be a practicing shaman (in psychotherapists and philosopher's clothing).  He got to have tribalism and individuality both.  But few have the talent and charisma of Jung, and the modern world is up to its ears in (would be, wannabe, as well as valid) shamans.  I think that Jung's foray into modern spirituality was most notable, not for its interest in mysticism and the paranormal, but for its harnessing of the rationalist instinct, the gnostic drive, to the spiritual quest.  He demonstrated that the absurd idea of the religion-science (or spiritualist-rationalist) coniunctio was, perhaps, credible . . . if not yet distilled into an adaptive philosophical or spiritual system (system, or tool, not belief).  That is, Jung's great achievement was not in creating another mysticism, but in predicting a mysticism that was compatible with science and rationalism.

Regrettably for the Jungian community, this mysticism was by no means complete by the time of Jung's death, nor did it manage to provide a sufficient solution to the Problem of the Modern.  But it told us that this problem existed and that it could be both analyzed and addressed with a combination of rationalism and spiritualism.  It is left to us to continue working on this religion-science coniunctio, the formulation of a philosophical language that can remain plastic and adaptive itself so that it can aid modern humans in their quest for spiritual meaning.

And so, to answer the question posed in the title of this topic, I think there can be a spirituality for skeptics.  The pursuit of gnosis and adaptivity is a spiritual pursuit.  It is an instinctual pursuit, because it depends on the super-adaptivity of human instinct.  But this adaptivity to the modern will require an extensive reorganization and re-coordination of our instinctual framework.  Essentially, we must reconstruct our egos in line with the super-adaptive instinct.  We must become consciously adaptive, give our extremely plastic consciousness over to the instinct to find equilibrium with our environments.  We can no longer be unconsciously dependent on fixed, tribal environments (without suffering some kind of dissociation) . . . expecting our environments to sustain and protect us.  Our environments cannot sustain us in this way any longer, because in the modern world, the intrusion of other environments is unavoidable.  There is no Eden, no Utopia.  Instead there is diversity, or "the recognition of the Opposites".

We must evolve.  And this is a spiritual quest as grand and heroic as any.  There is no perfect ideology or tribal collective to save us from the painfulness of adapting.  There is only the process of transformation, "spiritual" death and rebirth.  This fundamentally natural, even biological, process is part of the essential mysticism of our species.  It remains every bit as mysterious, numinous, and compelling in rational, scientific language as it is in more spiritualistic trappings . . . and this is because the journey is instinctual.  It is deeper than belief and idea, deeper than spirit, deeper than psyche.  It is the Will of adaptivity, the Will of Life.

We may despise the fact that our species has arrived at an impasse in which it must utilize its potential for consciousness in order to adapt or evolve . . . but we would do well to keep in mind that consciousness as we understand it is the product of evolution.  Consciousness was and is adaptive for our species.  The fact that our free will confounds us is merely the side-effect of the extreme plasticity of our consciousness.  In order to adapt to various evolutionary entanglements, we had to develop this plasticity.  And now, even as this plasticity seems to be our greatest enemy, it is also our greatest asset.  It is both the disease and the medicine to cure it.  The illness and the god are one.

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Maria

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Re: The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2007, 06:56:51 PM »
(Dear Matt,
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My main sticking point (or differentiation/clarification from Jung's transcendent function) is that the super-adaptive instinct is an instinct.  It is biological.  It evolved.  It's seeming spirituality (or "transcendence") comes from its close association with ego-formation.  I.e., the ego is an abstract organ of consciousness that tends to spiritualize psychic and biological libido.  In essence, the ego takes instinctual libido from the unconscious and projects its anthropic abstractness into it, creating the phenomenon of spirit.

it is an interesting idea to call this an instinct, but i find it problematic because the way I understand 'instinct' is always a direct and specific response to specific details of the environment.

So, while I can understand why altruism, for example, could become an instinct in social animals, I cannot see how acting out altruism would result in an individuated person. Just like I cannot see how the fact that we are social animals resulted by definition either in the complexity of our societies or our "fast world". I see it vice versa. Our societies are more complex because we have more and more developed egos. Communities in the heart of the rainforest are far less complex. The list of words these people define their identity is far shorter, too. "I am the daughter of this and this, the wife of this and this and the mother of this and this, and I sing and cook well".

Just the same way, it is not the environment that required humans to develop their egos. As for the nature surrounding us, weren't it for our activity, it would be more or less the same as it was a few thousands of years ago.

But I do agree with you that what is in question is much more than a "function", and that it belongs to Life, though I personally don't like the term "biology", it sounds so self-conceited to suppose that we know anything about Life... but I have already written about this: http://uselessscience.com/forum/index.php?topic=101.msg337#msg337

Love,

Maria)
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I am that merry wanderer of the night."

(Puck)

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2007, 04:50:49 PM »

In writing my reply (still pending) to Maria's last post I stumbled upon a conundrum regarding my theory of the super-adaptive instinct.  I was caught in a conflict of likelihoods between the possibility that the super-adaptive instinct is an emergent system on one hand (and therefore, not specifically the product of a genetic mutation) or an adaptive, biological mutation on the other.  Of course, it's possible that both factors could be involved, but as complex systems theory is still a bit foreign and perplexing to me (much of that has to do with its jargony, new vocabulary that favors very abstract terms), I didn't feel comfortable either rejecting or embracing it overmuch.

My first intuition was that, as an instinct, the super-adaptive instinct resulted from a biological mutation.  But my thinking about the ego favors more of an emergent system theory.  That is, our conscious sense of self is, in my opinion, an emergent property of the various modular brain systems that operate in "consciousness" or working memory.  If we carefully introspect and study our thought processes (and behavior), we begin to see that the ego is made up of elements that are really not so much "spiritual" or transcendent or even "intelligent" as they are systematic, strategic, and unconscious.  Our sense of identity is a kind of abstraction or fantasy of this complex system . . . or, in more Jungian terms, a symbol of the ego-complex that we use to relate to ourselves and to relate ourselves to others . . . just as we might use a symbol of a personage or god or character to relate to an instinctual archetype like the hero or the animi. 

In other words, this "fantasy" of selfhood is an emergent property.  It lacks corporeality in the way that brain modules and instincts exhibit that trait.  Ego-development, then, seems to be significantly provoked by socialization . . . with various formulations of "egoism" generally corresponding to the kind of social structures the ego develops and exists in.

But my notion of the super-adaptive instinct holds that this instinct is responsible for "ego-creation and maintenance".  This is based in the observation that the phenomenon I associate with the super-adaptive instinct (a kind of alchemical Mercurius or Jungian transcendent function) clearly comes from the unconscious and "behaves like matter".  That is, it self-regulates the organism (or the organ of the ego) with a Will that encourages adaptation to the environment.  When we do the Work (or a devout individuation), we interact with the super-adaptive instinct and  its various manifestations (like the animi and hero).  We do not have conscious control over it.  In fact, progress in the Work is largely a matter of properly identifying and surrendering to the process the super-adaptive instinct wills.

The perceived materiality and Otherness of the super-adaptive instinct disinclined me to consider that it itself is an emergent system (with the emergent property of the ego developing out of the super-adaptive instinct).  But in my limited grasp on archeology and human evolution, I have felt it necessary to address the problem that the human brain fully developed about 100,000 years ago, but humans didn't show many signs of cultural innovation until about 40,000 BP.  And agriculture (which had the most significant change on human sociality) didn't begin until about 10,000 BP.  Why did we keep making our simple stone tools in precisely the same way for more 60,000 years (stone tools like this date back from before we became homo sapiens, to 2.5 million BP)?  That seems unlikely to me, when we look at modern humans (unlikely, but not impossible).  We are extremely innovative animals.

The super-adaptive instinct is something I associate with human innovation.  If it is true that we leapt forward in innovativeness 60,000 years after our brains reached their current state of development, this seems to give more weight to the notion that what I call the super-adaptive instinct is not so much an instinct as an emergent system.  Obviously a great deal more data would be required to formulate this into anything more than very abstract speculation.

So this was where I was stumped: is super-adaptivity an instinct or an emergent system?  What jumpstarted human innovativeness if not specifically genetic mutation?  Is it possible that our species lived for over 60,000 years with an evolved but dormant capacity for advanced innovation?  Why did the capacity evolve in the first place then?  What purpose would it have served?  Was it a side-effect of another mutation . . . a side-effect that only became adaptive when our environment created higher demand for it?

That is, what we can gather from archaeological artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic (around 40,000 BP), at least in my guess, is that tribes of humans were differentiating themselves with cultural practices.  That suggests tribal splintering was occurring . . . and therefore, population growth (I haven't found a source that links this period with population growth yet; not that I have looked . . . but this is my guess, and if I find evidence that refutes this hypothesis, I will revise my theory accordingly).

So, the need for tribal differentiation could be the environmental change that enabled a dormant capacity for advanced innovation.  That's one theory, at least.  This environmental change could have also enabled an emergent system to evolve (conscious discrimination and impetus for innovation based on the need to define and differentiate tribal identity).

I certainly don't know which . . . and probably nobody else does yet either.  The data is still too limited.


But today, I serendipitously stumbled upon an article in the New York Times that provides a potential biological, evolutionary explanation for the super-adaptive instinct.  "From a Few Genes: Life's Myriad Shapes" by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. 

Quote
Used to lay out body plans, build beaks and alter fish jaws, BMP4 illustrates perfectly one of the major recurring themes of evo-devo. New forms can arise via new uses of existing genes, in particular the control genes or what are sometimes called toolkit genes that oversee development. It is a discovery that can explain much that has previously been mysterious, like the observation that without much obvious change to the genome over all, one can get fairly radical changes in form.

“There aren’t new genes arising every time a new species arises,” said Dr. Brian K. Hall, a developmental biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “Basically you take existing genes and processes and modify them, and that’s why humans and chimps can be 99 percent similar at the genome level.”

This is precisely what I have proposed with the super-adaptive instinct (albeit, intuitively or from observing psychic phenomena).  But although the mutation of a toolkit gene might account for the coordination of other, older instincts (for mating, aggression, etc.)  by the newer, super-adaptive instinct (and thus give some small support to the notion that the super-adaptive instinct does indeed behave like an instinct, like matter), this still doesn't account for the problem that the emergence of increased human innovation (Upper Paleolithic Revolution) doesn't seem to have been the direct and immediate product of a genetic mutation (insomuch as human skull size and shape didn't change in this period).

A later passage from this article gives a little more definition:

Quote
Tetrapods include cows, people, birds, rodents and so on. In other words, the potential for making fingers, hands and feet, crucial innovations used in emerging from the water to a life of walking and crawling on land, appears to have been present in fish, long before they began flip-flopping their way out of the muck. “The genetic tools to build fingers and toes were in place for a long time,” Dr. Shubin wrote in an e-mail message. “Lacking were the environmental conditions where these structures would be useful.” He added, “Fingers arose when the right environments arose.

And here is another of the main themes to emerge from evo-devo. Major events in evolution like the transition from life in the water to life on land are not necessarily set off by the arising of the genetic mutations that will build the required body parts, or even the appearance of the body parts themselves, as had long been assumed. Instead, it is theorized that the right ecological situation, the right habitat in which such bold, new forms will prove to be particularly advantageous, may be what is required to set these major transitions in motion.

Of course, here we are still talking about genetic mutations . . . but the notion is very much the same as emergence of complex systems.  More digging . . .

from the article "No Last Words on Language Origins" by Constance Holden:
Quote
To some researchers, these dramatic transformations imply that one more biological change, beyond the expansion of the brain and the change in throat anatomy, had taken place, making humans capable of fully modern language. [Richard] Klein, for example, posits a "fortuitous mutation" some 50,000 years ago among modern humans in East Africa that "promoted the modern capacity" for rapid, flexible, and highly structured speech--along with the range of adaptive behavioral potential we think of as uniquely human. He doesn't see how anything else, such as a social or technological development, could have wrought such "sudden and fundamental" change, which modern humans then carried out of Africa and around the world.

Steven Mithen of the University of Reading in the U.K. also believes evolution did a late-stage tinkering with the brain, one that produced what he calls "fluid" human intelligence. Both apes and early humans, he believes, operate with what he calls a "Swiss army knife" model of intelligence. That is, they have technical, social, and "natural history" or environmental modules, but there's little cross talk between them. This could explain, for example, why humans were deft at shaping stones to butcher animals, but it never occurred to them to transform an animal bone into a cutting tool. At some point around the 40,000-year mark, Mithen believes the walls between these modules finally collapsed, leaving Homo sapiens furnished with the ability to generalize, perceive analogous phenomena, and exercise other powerful functions of the integrated human intelligence. Only then would language have been fully mature.

Others say that instead of reflecting a final step in brain evolution, language might have crystallized as part of a social change, perhaps triggered by population growth. "I don't subscribe to the cognitive model of a new bit gets added on," says Clive Gamble of Cambridge University. "I would argue it's changes in the social context"--for example, the complexity of behavior needed for large numbers of people to live together.

I just tracked this down in mid-post.  So, at least some experts are barking up the same tree as my intuition . . . as either a late genetic mutation (that reorganized brain activity without changing brain size or shape) or a population increase would resolve the major mystery of the super-adaptive instinct's origin.

Here's another article I found that tries to puzzle out the same mystery: "Contextual Focus: A Cognitive Explanation for the Cultural Transition of the Middle/Upper Paleolithic".  It summarizes (and rejects) a few theories . . . but I am not convinced by the author's conclusions.  Still possibly worth a read.


While I scoured the web all day, and it seems this thing I'm trying to dig up info on (the Upper Paleolithic Revolution) is a great mystery even among anthropologists and biologists.

For now, I'm going to stick with the phenomenological data (i.e., the SE instinct behaves like a biological instinct and not an abstract, emergent system like the ego) and continue to work with the hypothesis of a super-adaptive instinct.  Still, for this theory to ever become more that pure speculation, I think a biological origin explanation of it needs to be discovered.  I feel that this will be possible since the phenomenon I have given this name to behaves entirely like an instinct.  That is, the fact that I can't find a satisfying explanation for its evolutionary origin doesn't in any way negate the fact that it is perceivable or active in our psychic experiences.

The super-adaptive instinct is especially illusive, though, because it is indirectly adaptive.  That is, it seems to coordinate and interrelate other instincts to achieve a more plastic adaptivity.  But it "vanishes" into the background behind these instincts.

Well, enough head-scratching for now.  Live to think again another day.





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Sealchan

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Re: The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2011, 04:17:02 PM »
I've reread bits and pieces here...one thing to consider is that when you take on the notion of complex adaptive systems ideas like super-adaptive instinct probably melt into the typical kinds of self-regulating mechanisms that complex adaptive systems already contain.  In order to be a complex adaptive system you are already:

1.  Complex, that is, dynamic in the interaction of the parts where the parts have small differences between them.  The behaviors that arise on the whole are already "more than the sum of the parts"

2.  Adaptive, whereby the dynamic interactions are historically sensitive and so they change their behavior in response to the environment.

Again, these properties arise from the interaction of the parts.  They would not be separable parts in and of themselves.  So the tendency toward balance of a transcedent "function" or a super-adaptive instinct is redundant in this terminology.

In fact, one benefit of the complex adaptive system paradigm is that it avoids/reveals the need to create these functional mechanisms and then try to account for them in any reductive fashion.   You can build behavior of mind/psyche right out of parts such as language and/or neurons and/or whatever else you see as parts to the system or to one of the relevant interactive systems.

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2011, 10:35:56 AM »
Hi Sealchan,

I came to much the same conclusion a while ago, which is why I no longer use this term.  Ultimately, I couldn't determine that there was anything truly "superadaptive" or that superadaptivity was a trait unto itself.  I also felt that employing the term instinct in this case was not accurate.  I'm not opposed to the term instinct, even if it is no longer in vogue, but the phenomenon I was trying to describe doesn't really seem to be an instinct per se.

The phenomena I was trying to analyze included some familiar Jungian observations such as: 1.) the ego does not develop in continuous expansion, but through cycles of dissolution and reorganization, unlearning and relearning (a process that produces autonomous archetypal images and patterns that correspond generally to the "hero's journey" motif, or more accurately, in my opinion, the shamanic initiation motif), 2.) The personages that most commonly emerge from the shamanic initiation motif are the syzygy or the hero and animi; the animi represents a yet to be valued new mode of thinking and identifying, a new mode of egoic organization, and the hero represents a drive to valuate that unvalued new state of ego organization, 3.) the archetype of romantic love seems to have its roots in these psychic patterns of reorganization.

My original thinking was that romantic love and sexual attraction for a partner/mate, especially as they emerge in later adolescence, not only serve the function of "perpetuating the species", but also prefigure an initiatory movement in the human psyche.  That is, romantic love involves a new valuation of the other and the component dissolution of the ego that must change to accommodate intimate relationship with this other-as-partner.  On an "instinctual" level, sexual attraction and mating seem simple enough . . . or at least evidently driven by what were once called "instincts".  The complexities of human courtship rituals aside, that we still have courtship rituals is also a testament to the powerful organizational influence of "instincts" on human sexual and mating behaviors.

But why (as the phenomena definitely suggest) is there this parallel among sexual attraction and mating, romantic love, and shamanic initiation?  Shamanic initiation is clearly not the same thing as mating.  If we look even more closely at the psychic phenomena of the animi work, we see that, although sexual attraction is a significant theme, sexual gratification and sexual emphasis in general are not central to the heroic ego/animi relationship.  I.e., the animi work is not simply about finding an ideal partner or about the image of an ideal partner welling up from the unconscious to be projected upon material partners as if to measure their fitness (even though such intuitive measurements are felt to be strongly predisposed in humans according to evolutionary psychology).  But the animi seem to "benefit" (or progressively develop) by their introversion and the withdrawal of their projections onto living others.  The animi do not "want" to be our private little fantasy sex dolls.  They seem to "desire" valuation and redemption, but refuse possession.  Also, they are transitional and temporary.  The animi work taken far enough will end in the death/departure of the animi-as-partners.  It would be more accurate to describe the animi as psychopomps or initiators.

Yet, they are undeniably sexualized during certain phases of their manifestation in dreams and fantasies or artistic works.  This sex-but-not-sex phenomena common to the animi made me think of genetic retooling.  The data suggest that the ultimate purpose of the animi work is the reorganization of identity or ego functionality, with the result being a greater capacity for intimate (not necessarily sexual) relationship with others.  I.e., instead of fortifying ourselves against relationship with others and seeing our identities as set in stone (but still fragile), the animi initiate begins to embrace the realization that relationship constructs and modifies our identity . . . and that this influence or modification of identity is a kind of pleasure and a growth, even as it can also feel destructive at times.

It is even fair to say that, symbolically, relationships that do not have sexualized aspects take on romantic/sexualized patterns.  I mean that in the sense that, getting to know someone intimately (on a psychological level) requires a kind of union where mutual influence is embraced . . . and this intimacy is every bit as complex and "deep" as sexual intimacy (perhaps more so).  Every coming together with another person involves a kind of penetration (of the egoic bubble) and reception . . . and our natural metaphor for that is the sexual act.  But most of the time we resist such penetration and reception with others in the name of preserving our "egoic integrity", our sameness.  Also, moments of relational penetration and/or reception are typically not chosen.  They come upon us unexpectedly and without our determination or approval.  Another person is in us (or vice versa) before we even know what's happening.  Where our prevailing idea of identity is static, fortified, and consistent, intimate relationship will feel like a violation regardless of the intentions of the other.

But the animi are also commonly violators of egoic integrity.  They are commonly met with resistance and rejection (and often disgust and shame).  But as the animi work unfolds, they become the epitome of the intimate and wholly trusted partner.

In any case, and even in spite of the natural sexual metaphor for intimate relationship of any kind, it seemed to me that the sexualization of the animi work was especially deceptive or misleading from its genuine purpose.  "Why so sexualized?" I wondered.  And I decided that it could very well be the case that in order to recognize, valuate, and intimately relate to/bond with the animi the (heroic) ego needs to be swept up in the powerful affective/instinctual wave that "possesses" us when we are "in love" or at least immensely horny.  Only an instinctual or autonomous feeling this powerful can shatter or dissolve the ego's grip on the personality enough to enable the process of union with the Other to occur.  Equally, in romantic love, the ego must be shattered.  One does not fall in love rationally or reasonably.  It is a violation, an "abduction by Hades".  And there is often something seemingly "illegitimate" about the people we fall in love with, at least at the beginning.  They are the ones who irk us or the ones we quickly devalue.  They hook us through our shadows, at some point we are unaware of.  We loose ourselves.

My hypothesis of a superadaptive instinct was largely based in seeing the way sexual attraction/"possession" was being retooled for the purpose of initiation and ego reorganization.  Sexual attraction to and relationship with material others does not demand this kind of profound initiatory ego dissolution and reorganization, so there is no reason for sexual attraction to evolve for this purpose.  And mating, even if one argues (against much evidence) that we are a quasi-monogamous species that mates for life, does not require "shamanic initiation".  Yet shamanic initiation or individuation seems to incorporate mating motifs and utilize sexual attraction and energy.  It seemed to me that something else was employing our sexuality in a slightly different task: the task of ego reorganization.

And maybe something like that is happening.  But I came to feel that there wasn't enough evidence to assert this psychologically.  What I was calling the superadaptive instinct now seems to me better understood as the dynamic or principle of organization that defines the Self system.  The ego is an emergent organ of this Self system interacting with the cultural environment the human psyche has evolved to adapt to.  The ego is a kind of bridge or relational valve or informational conduit between the Self and culture.  What we think of as identity is an emergent mechanism for our interactions with Otherness.  Much of the ego is environmentally constructed or acquired unintentionally.  But the environment has no innate concern for the welfare of the individual human organism.  Even the environment of human culture does not serve or sustain individual selves.  Rather, it perpetuates normalized types and attitudes.  To the degree that a given "self" can be made like one of these normalized attitudes, there is a greater chance for survival and fitness in that individual.  But society/environment can never construct an identity that truly responds to the innate biological/instinctual reality of a unique individual.

There is another organizational force within that asserts structure and "libido" into identity construction, and this force is a combination of species-specific "instincts" and the unique array of individual genetic predispositions that person inherited.  This combination is what I take as the basis for the Self (and it encompasses what used to be referred to as soul and spirit).  And the archetypal representation of the Self system tends to manifest as a principle of dynamic organization in the personality that is Other to the ego, and yet is still one of the foundational pillars of identity (along with environment/culture).  The Self has a different claim on identity than culture does, though, because the Self is concerned with the survival, adaptation, and fitness of the individual organism.

From the perspective of the Self, the ego is a medium of interaction with the environment that must function adequately and adaptively (i.e., in tune with human instincts and with the organisms specific genetic predispositions).  The dynamic organizational process of the Self will function to dissolve ego constructions that are not adequately functional in their application of instincts and predispositions . . . or where the application of these instincts and predispositions do not lead to the procurement of the necessities of human life (e.g., status in society or freedom from the constraints of low-status, access to mates and resources, and generally low levels of anxiety).

What I have been interested in studying is what this force, this dynamic psychic organizing principle of the Self, is and how it functions.  This is the foundation of human psychology.  The psychology of the ego alone is impossible to construct without understanding the dynamic organizational principle of the Self.  There is a way or pattern in which the Self would (given its way) organize the ego (including how the Self would dissolve and reorganize the ego repeatedly and as necessary).  I had been calling that way or pattern the superadaptive instinct . . . because it was more than just conventionally adaptive (in the way genetic traits might be over evolutionary time).  I felt that this force might help enable human minds to adapt to an extremely wide range of conditions because the medium of adaptation is psyche, not matter.  Genes don't have to mutate and be selected for naturally.  We can essentially modify our attitudes to achieve what we most need for our survival: relatively low anxiety and a feeling of satisfaction.

And there is no one right way to be "satisfied" and at ease.  Our circumstances play a major role, but they do not absolutely determine our anxiety.  Our attitudes are more fundamental and are available to reorganization.  What might drive one person to insanity or suicide is the welcomed current another person swims in.  We are not beholden to our environment in the way most other animals are.  We can thrive almost anywhere on this planet.  To appropriate the somewhat ugly metaphor used in The Matrix, humans are like viruses.  We can survive in any external environment so long as we maintain ourselves within a host.  And for our species, the wandering host is culture and its ability to construct and transport the human environmental niche we require for our survival.

We are a "superadaptive" species in this sense.  This psychological capacity to revise attitudes in order to adapt to environmental conditions is an evolutionary marvel.  But I no longer feel it is one "instinct" that drives this adaptation.  We cannot differentiate one specific organ that accounts for this "superadaptability".  As you suggest, it is the normal function of a complex dynamic and adaptive system . . . and this natural dynamism is coupled (in the case of our species) to a "materia" of mental and informational states that can be relatively rapidly altered.

It is not an instinct, but a function of living in and having adapted to the "cognitive niche" that enables us to be so especially "superadaptive".

So, ultimately, my hypothesis of a superadaptive instinct fell to Occam's Razor.  It was not the simplest explanation that accounted for all the relevant data.  This change in my thinking is one of very many that has taken place in the last five years or so since I began formulating psychological theories around or in reaction to Jungian thought.  I do my best to follow the data, and that process involves many mistakes, and the ever instructive learning from those mistakes.
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Sealchan

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Re: The Super-Adaptive Instinct
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2011, 04:16:02 PM »
Quote
The phenomena I was trying to analyze included some familiar Jungian observations such as: 1.) the ego does not develop in continuous expansion, but through cycles of dissolution and reorganization, unlearning and relearning (a process that produces autonomous archetypal images and patterns that correspond generally to the "hero's journey" motif, or more accurately, in my opinion, the shamanic initiation motif), 2.) The personages that most commonly emerge from the shamanic initiation motif are the syzygy or the hero and animi; the animi represents a yet to be valued new mode of thinking and identifying, a new mode of egoic organization, and the hero represents a drive to valuate that unvalued new state of ego organization, 3.) the archetype of romantic love seems to have its roots in these psychic patterns of reorganization.

To number 1) I have an objection in that it seems to me that there is a sense that as an individual lives and loves and learns throughout their life there is, at least, a quantitative accumulation of knowledge and, hopefully, on top of that a qualitative accumulation of knowledge as wisdom.  This accumulation is acquired through ego experience.  However, I think the ego as "working memory" can only accomodate so much accumulated knowledge...the ego must reorder that accumulated knowledge in ever more abstract terms in order to meaningfully relate to an ever wider field of experience and awareness.  The ego may not be growing in absolute power, but it should be growing in a sense of absolute adaptibility.  If the ego wants greater absolute power it can easily gain this by identification with an archetype.  But this power is temporary and more susceptible to sudden loss through the raising of the complementary opposite personality as autonomous complex which then can temporarily take possession of the attention mechanism in the individual.

The ego that wants to avoid such possessions should then take Jung's advice and study his or her dreams and reflect on these moments of possession as one's greatest weaknesses to be deflated by a cooperative stance taken with the autonomous complex.  A successful pursuit of this means that while the ego doesn't gain power it does expand its territory.  And how do you measure the breadth of the territory?  Metaphorically by the concept of adaptability but more practically by one's ability to productively direct libido away from purely affective explosions towards more creative solutions or responses to a given problematic situation or thought.

I suspect that the sexual instinct constellates in the psyche the idea of the sexual other as goal.  In this sense Freud was right to see sex as important even if he was not right to see sex as exclusively important.  In a way, Freud just focused on the instinctual source of Jung's later notion of conflict of opposites.  But the sexual instinct need not be THE source of this.  A basic understanding of the nervous system from the neuron, to the local interconnections of neurons to the interconnections of groups of neurons all show this quality of opposition.  In fact all of nature does this.  But sex is important because it is a source of lidibo.  It is a default goal of the individual.  Even if it is not an all consuming concern, its "background vibe" is enough to order other psychic contents especially if those contents are compromised by conflicting polarity enough to render them near a net libidic flow of zero.  In such a state, a instinctual drive such as sex has relative power to imprint the pattern of the sexual goal onto the relatively unrelated psychic content.  In other words, our brains creatively amplify a psychic conflict/encounter as a sexual theme.  This is without purpose.  It is merely a problem/feature of the design of the brain.

But in tying the psychic conflict to the sexual instinct as psychic energy you gain a handle that works both ways: through engagement in the sexual instinct (finding a mate) one can manipulate one's non-sexual psychic states and through engagement in the non-sexual conflict without clear adaptive value you can raise its value (and, perhaps, the likelihood of its resolution) if you can tap into its analogy to the sexual instinct.  It may be that in practice this kind of brain function (what I would call intuitive perception) is as problematic as it is productive.  But in the context of a culture which cultivates a certain set of such metaphors or "images" as sacred (exclusive), it can then track the ups and downs of such metaphoric constructs and guide each individual forward through the needed phases of development into a responsible, productive adult member to that society. 

Quote
My original thinking was that romantic love and sexual attraction for a partner/mate, especially as they emerge in later adolescence, not only serve the function of "perpetuating the species", but also prefigure an initiatory movement in the human psyche.  That is, romantic love involves a new valuation of the other and the component dissolution of the ego that must change to accommodate intimate relationship with this other-as-partner.  On an "instinctual" level, sexual attraction and mating seem simple enough . . . or at least evidently driven by what were once called "instincts".  The complexities of human courtship rituals aside, that we still have courtship rituals is also a testament to the powerful organizational influence of "instincts" on human sexual and mating behaviors.

But why (as the phenomena definitely suggest) is there this parallel among sexual attraction and mating, romantic love, and shamanic initiation?  Shamanic initiation is clearly not the same thing as mating.  If we look even more closely at the psychic phenomena of the animi work, we see that, although sexual attraction is a significant theme, sexual gratification and sexual emphasis in general are not central to the heroic ego/animi relationship.  I.e., the animi work is not simply about finding an ideal partner or about the image of an ideal partner welling up from the unconscious to be projected upon material partners as if to measure their fitness (even though such intuitive measurements are felt to be strongly predisposed in humans according to evolutionary psychology).  But the animi seem to "benefit" (or progressively develop) by their introversion and the withdrawal of their projections onto living others.  The animi do not "want" to be our private little fantasy sex dolls.  They seem to "desire" valuation and redemption, but refuse possession.  Also, they are transitional and temporary.  The animi work taken far enough will end in the death/departure of the animi-as-partners.  It would be more accurate to describe the animi as psychopomps or initiators.

The animi are the ego seen as some complementary aspect.  They may be the lost face of the ego that long ago fatefully chose to prefer conscious function W and X over Y and Z and so the animi are the face of the Y and the Z functions as the ego should be developing them.  There is, in a sense, a theme of the ego having not chose the sexual other as if the very development of the psyche or the body there was some fateful branching point that was met with and the path divided (Neumann's separation of the world parents?).  One way was chosen.  Thereafter the animi represent the face of the one who the ego would have next become had the ego chose the other path.  However it is that the sexual instinct actually works as a physical mechanism that influences the brain and thus the psychic environment, there seems to be a great value in the coordination of the sexual instinct and other non-sexual psychic dynamics. 

Another way of looking at it is that in the great muddle of interconnectivity in the brain, the neural activity strongly associated with sexuality swims in the same great pool of psyche as other neural activity.  Whenever the brain "perceives" a relation between the sexual neural activity and the non-sexual neural activity, this is describable as an intuition or a perception of the non-sensory type.  Intuition has perceived an order in the great muddle of the one pool of the psyche and formed a distinct discrimination.  Alternately, it may be that the organization of the psyche along the lines of the needs of the sexual instinct predisposes other psychic goals to be seen in relationship to this one.  Either way the brain establishes some sort of order in conjunction with the sexual instinct with the result being that languages and other contexts are sexualized although those contexts aren't inherently of a sexual nature.  Its as if the brain made use of the sexual instinct as a kind of paradigm purely for the sake of availability or convenience to lend order or to force order upon something less ordered and, therefore, less available to conscious manipulation.

And just as sensory information can be received and processes without consciousness, so too can non-sensory perceptions presumably.  So this can explain the function of intuition as productive whether or not the individual experienced the perception as an experience during a period of self-reflection consciously driven or as an experience unexpected, unbidded during a dream.

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Yet, they are undeniably sexualized during certain phases of their manifestation in dreams and fantasies or artistic works.  This sex-but-not-sex phenomena common to the animi made me think of genetic retooling.  The data suggest that the ultimate purpose of the animi work is the reorganization of identity or ego functionality, with the result being a greater capacity for intimate (not necessarily sexual) relationship with others.  I.e., instead of fortifying ourselves against relationship with others and seeing our identities as set in stone (but still fragile), the animi initiate begins to embrace the realization that relationship constructs and modifies our identity . . . and that this influence or modification of identity is a kind of pleasure and a growth, even as it can also feel destructive at times.

I suspect that the young child makes the most fortifications in their psyche but as they reach puberty and then reach a state of relative independence from their parents and a direct role in their society the maturing individual is presented more and more with the need to take down these old fortifications as non-adaptive, over-simplificatins.  So power that was consolidated in a very limited psychic space (range of adaptability) originally must be distributed more democratically the more one expands one's range of psychic adaptability.  But these old forifications were needed originally to reach a certain threshold and so these walls are foundational.  Dismantling them at all feels like self-annihilation.  The desire to do so seems merely self-destructive unless one supposes that there is a higher order at work guiding the process.  Otherwise one feels as if one is merely about to jump off of a cliff.

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It is even fair to say that, symbolically, relationships that do not have sexualized aspects take on romantic/sexualized patterns.  I mean that in the sense that, getting to know someone intimately (on a psychological level) requires a kind of union where mutual influence is embraced . . . and this intimacy is every bit as complex and "deep" as sexual intimacy (perhaps more so).  Every coming together with another person involves a kind of penetration (of the egoic bubble) and reception . . . and our natural metaphor for that is the sexual act.  But most of the time we resist such penetration and reception with others in the name of preserving our "egoic integrity", our sameness.  Also, moments of relational penetration and/or reception are typically not chosen.  They come upon us unexpectedly and without our determination or approval.  Another person is in us (or vice versa) before we even know what's happening.  Where our prevailing idea of identity is static, fortified, and consistent, intimate relationship will feel like a violation regardless of the intentions of the other.

Perhaps the shadow guards the door of all devalued roads not taken while the animi guard the door of roads unwillingly abandoned?

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But the animi are also commonly violators of egoic integrity.  They are commonly met with resistance and rejection (and often disgust and shame).  But as the animi work unfolds, they become the epitome of the intimate and wholly trusted partner.

In any case, and even in spite of the natural sexual metaphor for intimate relationship of any kind, it seemed to me that the sexualization of the animi work was especially deceptive or misleading from its genuine purpose.  "Why so sexualized?" I wondered.  And I decided that it could very well be the case that in order to recognize, valuate, and intimately relate to/bond with the animi the (heroic) ego needs to be swept up in the powerful affective/instinctual wave that "possesses" us when we are "in love" or at least immensely horny.  Only an instinctual or autonomous feeling this powerful can shatter or dissolve the ego's grip on the personality enough to enable the process of union with the Other to occur.  Equally, in romantic love, the ego must be shattered.  One does not fall in love rationally or reasonably.  It is a violation, an "abduction by Hades".  And there is often something seemingly "illegitimate" about the people we fall in love with, at least at the beginning.  They are the ones who irk us or the ones we quickly devalue.  They hook us through our shadows, at some point we are unaware of.  We loose ourselves.

My hypothesis of a superadaptive instinct was largely based in seeing the way sexual attraction/"possession" was being retooled for the purpose of initiation and ego reorganization.  Sexual attraction to and relationship with material others does not demand this kind of profound initiatory ego dissolution and reorganization, so there is no reason for sexual attraction to evolve for this purpose.  And mating, even if one argues (against much evidence) that we are a quasi-monogamous species that mates for life, does not require "shamanic initiation".  Yet shamanic initiation or individuation seems to incorporate mating motifs and utilize sexual attraction and energy.  It seemed to me that something else was employing our sexuality in a slightly different task: the task of ego reorganization.

And yet often love and sex when they are not differentiated by the poetic mind often describes both as a process where one looses one's self to another.  I just watched Bicentennial Man and this was one of the robotic main character's expectations of sex when he was to be fitted with the functional ability to have sex.

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And maybe something like that is happening.  But I came to feel that there wasn't enough evidence to assert this psychologically.  What I was calling the superadaptive instinct now seems to me better understood as the dynamic or principle of organization that defines the Self system.  The ego is an emergent organ of this Self system interacting with the cultural environment the human psyche has evolved to adapt to.  The ego is a kind of bridge or relational valve or informational conduit between the Self and culture.  What we think of as identity is an emergent mechanism for our interactions with Otherness.  Much of the ego is environmentally constructed or acquired unintentionally.  But the environment has no innate concern for the welfare of the individual human organism.  Even the environment of human culture does not serve or sustain individual selves.  Rather, it perpetuates normalized types and attitudes.  To the degree that a given "self" can be made like one of these normalized attitudes, there is a greater chance for survival and fitness in that individual.  But society/environment can never construct an identity that truly responds to the innate biological/instinctual reality of a unique individual.

There is another organizational force within that asserts structure and "libido" into identity construction, and this force is a combination of species-specific "instincts" and the unique array of individual genetic predispositions that person inherited.  This combination is what I take as the basis for the Self (and it encompasses what used to be referred to as soul and spirit).  And the archetypal representation of the Self system tends to manifest as a principle of dynamic organization in the personality that is Other to the ego, and yet is still one of the foundational pillars of identity (along with environment/culture).  The Self has a different claim on identity than culture does, though, because the Self is concerned with the survival, adaptation, and fitness of the individual organism.

This is where I see the conscious functions coming in.  The conscious functions are really broad generalizations of types of neural interconnectivity that any specific psychic activity can takes as an influence.  The four functions are like the four winds that blow across the same psychic landscape but from different directions.  In a culture with self-reflection these different psychic winds can be differentiated as Jung has demonstrated not only in his own formulation but those of his predeccesors as he has noted.  But to call these functions conscious is, perhaps, as big a mistake as to call the personal unconscious, unconscious.  These functions are more like archetypes in that they are hard-wired brain functionality.  It is only their significant products that achieve being the focus of attention that are conscious.  Just as the personal unconscious is full of contents that a photo album could easily bring back into consciousness and therefore should be called the potential conscious.

Our conversation is helping me to adjust the lines of where conscious and unconscious should be drawn.  My tendency to push the boundary of ego outward has been because I have seen the line of the conscious be extended into the personal unconscious.  But there may also need to be a line of the unconscious extended over the conscious functions for the most part.  Maybe this is an equal trade.  I will have to spell out a map of how I suspect the brain and the conscious functions and the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious are physically instantiated in the brain and body and society.  I still tend to push out the notion of Self but again I see Self and ego as nearly interchangable.

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From the perspective of the Self, the ego is a medium of interaction with the environment that must function adequately and adaptively (i.e., in tune with human instincts and with the organisms specific genetic predispositions).  The dynamic organizational process of the Self will function to dissolve ego constructions that are not adequately functional in their application of instincts and predispositions . . . or where the application of these instincts and predispositions do not lead to the procurement of the necessities of human life (e.g., status in society or freedom from the constraints of low-status, access to mates and resources, and generally low levels of anxiety).

Sometimes I get the sense that the Self is some perfect thing while the ego is left to feebly struggle to become better (more adaptive).  I don't see any room for perfection in the brain or any natural system.

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What I have been interested in studying is what this force, this dynamic psychic organizing principle of the Self, is and how it functions.  This is the foundation of human psychology.  The psychology of the ego alone is impossible to construct without understanding the dynamic organizational principle of the Self.  There is a way or pattern in which the Self would (given its way) organize the ego (including how the Self would dissolve and reorganize the ego repeatedly and as necessary).  I had been calling that way or pattern the superadaptive instinct . . . because it was more than just conventionally adaptive (in the way genetic traits might be over evolutionary time).  I felt that this force might help enable human minds to adapt to an extremely wide range of conditions because the medium of adaptation is psyche, not matter.  Genes don't have to mutate and be selected for naturally.  We can essentially modify our attitudes to achieve what we most need for our survival: relatively low anxiety and a feeling of satisfaction.

If you were studying the intelligence of an ant colony (another complex adaptive system which emergent order (intelligence)) would you propose the idea of the Colony Self AND Colony Ego?  Or would this seem to be an unnecessary duplication?  If you were an ant colony would this perception change?

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And there is no one right way to be "satisfied" and at ease.  Our circumstances play a major role, but they do not absolutely determine our anxiety.  Our attitudes are more fundamental and are available to reorganization.  What might drive one person to insanity or suicide is the welcomed current another person swims in.  We are not beholden to our environment in the way most other animals are.  We can thrive almost anywhere on this planet.  To appropriate the somewhat ugly metaphor used in The Matrix, humans are like viruses.  We can survive in any external environment so long as we maintain ourselves within a host.  And for our species, the wandering host is culture and its ability to construct and transport the human environmental niche we require for our survival.

We are a "superadaptive" species in this sense.  This psychological capacity to revise attitudes in order to adapt to environmental conditions is an evolutionary marvel.  But I no longer feel it is one "instinct" that drives this adaptation.  We cannot differentiate one specific organ that accounts for this "superadaptability".  As you suggest, it is the normal function of a complex dynamic and adaptive system . . . and this natural dynamism is coupled (in the case of our species) to a "materia" of mental and informational states that can be relatively rapidly altered.

I think it is language that drives our super-adaptivity beyond those of other species.  Beyond that technology of written language and then computer technology has enabled us to expand our consciousness even more.

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It is not an instinct, but a function of living in and having adapted to the "cognitive niche" that enables us to be so especially "superadaptive".

So, ultimately, my hypothesis of a superadaptive instinct fell to Occam's Razor.  It was not the simplest explanation that accounted for all the relevant data.  This change in my thinking is one of very many that has taken place in the last five years or so since I began formulating psychological theories around or in reaction to Jungian thought.  I do my best to follow the data, and that process involves many mistakes, and the ever instructive learning from those mistakes.

And as always your theories are always thought-provoking and instrumental to my own efforts at clarifying my own theory making.