Monday, November 21, 2011

On Carl Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Our existence in society can be visualized as the middle ground between the opposing poles of existence as animal and existence through language.

Existence as animal ---------------> Existence in society <------------------ Existence through language

Historical materialism sees only one side of this formulation. It sees existence in society as necessarily developing out of how we produce enough subsistence to meet our animal needs.

Existence as animal ---------------> Existence through language ---------------> Existence in society

Why do I believe that our existence through language is fundamentally different from our needs for food, water, and shelter? Is not the development of language similar to, say, the evolutionary development of a tiger's sharp claws or a peacock's tail, in that they developed to enable the species to more effectively procure food or attract mates?

Yes, it is true we could view life through these lenses, seeing only the material causes for every event. But this view closes the door on so much! Unlike sharp claws or fancy tail feathers, language brought about the development of consciousness, and,in doing so, opened up a whole new way of looking at the world. Consciousness gives us the ability to “bind time,” as Korzybski put it, meaning that we can exist apart from the material world by reminiscing about past memories or planning future triumphs.

Rather than seeing history only as class struggle, history can also be seen as an attempt to unify the two opposing poles of our existence as animal and our existence as “time binders” through language.

Existence as animal, described by natural science ---------------> Existence in society <------------------ Existence as time binders through language, expressed by religious experience

If we are ever able to bring these two poles together, maybe we will be at what De Chardin calls the "sense of Earth."

De Charin wrote about: "The sense of Earth is the irresistible pressure which will come at the right moment to unite them (humankind) in a common passion." "Humanity. . . is building its composite brain beneath our eyes." -

What interests me is the thought that Jung's archetypes are our clues for how to accomplish what De Chardin was talking about.

For Jung, archetypes are genetic echoes of how consciousness arose within early humans. These memories exist a priori in the structure of the human brain, waiting to be re-activated by specific social experiences.

What had to happen for consciousness to develop in early humans? I believe the development was gradual, with the archetypes signifying big events—the love of a mother, sharing in the knowledge of an elder, the fear of the unknown, the first conscious awareness of sexual attraction—I feel like these concepts existed as unconscious archetypes long before the creation of language.

Just as archetypes existed before we had words for them, perhaps archetypes can also be found on a social level.

Chardin wrote, "It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts." In looking to manufacture consciousness through artificial intelligence, we are getting too far ahead of ourselves. First we need to see how far human consciousness can reach, by creating a unity between our language-based and needs-based existences.

1 comment :

  1. Here is a link to a debate about Socialism vs. Participatory Economics:

    My feeling on it is that Marx has a great vision about a better future society, however I agree with Albert that certain language and methods in Marx's theories could create the conditions that bring about a different but equally bad situation as the domination of the capitalist ruling class. So Albert writes in one of his books, "Just as private ownership and market relations create an economic context in which capitalists dominate, perhaps another set of economic relations might create a context in which coordinators would dominate."

    Coordinators would be people who do not necessarily own capital themselves, but have jobs that primarily consist of the mental labor of coordinating the activity of others. Examples include engineers who design the equipment that assembly lines use, judges, lawyers, and politicians whose decisions impact how low-level police officers cover their beat, a tenured professor who to some degree manages the work students and department secretaries.

    Aldous Huxley's Brave New World predicts a future society that would be similar to one dominated by a coordinator class.

    Specifically, y formulation of society is different from the treatment Historical Materialism gives. For me, rather than growing out of and reflecting material conditions, language opened up a whole new way of existence that is actually opposite from our existence within material conditions. The disagreement is analogous to looking up at the sky at night and wondering if the moon has its own light source or is reflecting the light from the sun.

    Here's an excerpt from Alan Maass's responses to Michael Albert that I think illustrates this same fundamental difference in interpretation:

    "Actually, I do agree that one excellent way to identify middle class positions in a workplace would be to look at the distribution of empowering and disempowering tasks... The distribution of "empowering work" can be a handy snapshot of class divisions."

    "But my question is: To what end? Why is there a "distribution of empowering and disempowering tasks"? Michael says that this system of authority arises out of the "division of labor" at work. But the division of labor doesn’t develop autonomously. It’s the product of capitalist property relations, continually shaped by them--a means of organization that ultimately serves the capitalist class and its drive to accumulate. Thus, the authority of the "coordinators" is real, but is exercised within limits imposed by the core priorities of the system."

    Maass sees the split between worker and coordinator as a reflection of material conditions, whereas Albert is saying the split creates a separate source of problems.

    I think these theoretical differences manifest in discussions about government subsidizing--Albert would say we have to weigh the benefits subsidies provide to people against the power transferred to coordinators.

    Both sides see capitalist markets as the biggest threat to civilized life right now.