Unified Rationality

In today’s socio-political climate, our attitude toward each other is often characterized as polarized, hostile, intolerant, divided, and so forth. The current situation’s emotional charge intensifies as the confluence of significant factors (e.g., pandemic, natural disasters, scarcity of resources including economically) both increase in magnitude and expand in scope. Consequently, the continuation of these tests continues to test the integrity of the system, as a society and as individuals.

As those experiencing these events transpire in the present, at the most technologically advanced point in history, there is a natural human tendency to amplify the significance of what is happening in the present and characterize these events as unprecedented. While these events may be unprecedented in many ways, particularly in their magnitude and scope, the psychological forces at play are anything but unprecedented. In fact, it is only due to our assumption of superiority over all previous stages of civilization that allow us to maintain a position of confidence when discussing these psychological matters, citing the advances in neuroscience among other disciplines of the mind to console ourselves that the deepest and most terrifying stages of psychic development are behind us, as a collective.

To expand on this point, I will return to Carl Jung’s 1957 book The Undiscovered Self for a humbling and frightful quote: “Consciousness is a very recent acquisition and as such is still an ‘experimental state’ ––frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured” (p. 74). By returning to the level of consciousness, we shift to a universal plane of thought that is shared by all and even extends historically, stretching back to the origins of consciousness itself. Even through doing this as a cognitive exercise, there already is a greater degree of separation from the present day. Moreover, Jung reminds us that despite our technological advancements, that our consciousness is not to be taken for granted, explaining, “The development of consciousness is a slow and laborious process that took untold ages to reach the civilized state. . .Although the development since that date seems to be considerable, it is still far from complete” (p. 73).

If these quotes about consciousness seem too abstract and unrelated to the initial points of the first paragraph, then it might be useful to pivot toward addressing why this disconnect directly: Why does thinking of the term consciousness provoke a sense of resistance? Maybe it’s that discussion or thought of the matter seems arbitrary and futile, or possibly it is easier and simpler to dismiss the topic altogether, selecting from the various connotations linked to consciousness as a way of sidestepping further investigation into the matter.

There is another reason for the resistance or uneasiness to the idea of consciousness that also accounts for why mental health and psychology have lagged behind that of the physical sciences, as Jung puts it, “When it comes to psychology, one of the youngest of the sciences, you can see misoneism at work” (p.72). Misoneism is defined as “the hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change.” As Jung identifies its role in psychology, I am extending it to our general uneasiness toward the topic of consciousness and our specific aversion toward the talk of unconsciousness.

While our society may be characterized by stark divisions and widening schisms of perceived and real differences, we share many similarities with how we respond to the notion and the reality of the unconscious. While the mere mention of the unconscious may provoke an urge to double down on the supremacy of rationality, declaring “our present knowledge of nature to be the summit of all possible knowledge,” we, nevertheless, can be “possessed and altered by our moods, we can suddenly be unreasonable, or important facts unaccountably vanish from our memory” (p. 74). Furthermore, this “basic resistance of the conscious mind to anything unconscious and unknown” serves to further our state of division from one another and dissociation from ourselves (p. 72).   

Resistance toward change is at the core of both of these rifts, within and without. They fuel one another as we seek to compensate for our feelings of inferiority evoked by the mere acknowledgment of unconsciousness. Through rational compensation and continued one-sided emphasis of consciousness, we, at the forefront of humanity, revert back to primal methods of denial and suppression, just as our ancestors did when faced with unprecedented events. The primary difference between our moment in time and that of our ancestors is the artificial integration that the internet and, specifically, social media platforms have provided us with that allow us to pull at the seams of not only our individual psyche (the container of consciousness and unconsciousness) but also that of the collective psyche. Our fears are absolved as we allow ourselves to be dissolved into a group that grants us an escape; this temporary refuge can blur over time and transform into a constant on which we depend and from where we operate, creating such a degree of normalcy and familiarity that we invert even the most basic principles to the point that “the right hand does not know what the left is doing, and in a state of violent affect one frequently forgets who one is” (p. 74).

While people are finding ways to accept the severe divisions among political parties, ideologies, and directions for the future of these United States, it is of the utmost importance for humanity that we do not forget that “Even in our days the unity of consciousness is a doubtful affair, since only a little affect is needed to disrupt its continuity” (p. 75).  

References:

Jung, C. G., Hull, R. F. C., & Shamdasani, S. (2010). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams (Bollingen) (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1957)

The Fundamental Divide

Many living in this modern age will agree with the statement that “we have never been more divided.” If not to this extreme, then at least to the degree of acknowledgment of the strong division among the citizens of society.

While I am specifically referring to the discord within the United States, the principles and mechanisms of actions underlying this division are far more universal than any single country or period within human history.

Often when thinking about divisions within society or among peoples, there is a basic mistake made in the first movement of thought; that is, the natural tendency appears to look outward and continue the investigation from this starting point. However, while this can yield useful and insightful discoveries, it also serves to overlook another source of division because of this initial outward movement: We neglect to inquire into internal divisions.

The consequences of this inward inquiry are different from that of the outward one; however, there are many similarities between the internal and the external. Both are necessary for deepening understanding of each other.

Throughout the work of Carl Jung, there is an emphasis on the inner and outer, moreover, the interplay between these two. There is a tremendous amount to expand on from this point, so instead, I would like to redirect to the initial divide that he so often wrote about: the division of the physical and the mental (i.e., psychic).

While Jung is by no means the originator of this idea, his psychological approach to this mind-body division was novel for the time since this question had previously been delegated to the realm of philosophers. Moreover, Jung was one of the forerunners for the relatively young field of psychology, beginning as a discipline around the late 1900s. Still, more than a century after Jung’s first publication in 1912, it is only in recent years (especially the last two decades) that the field of psychology, mental health, and the psychic side of life are beginning to gain traction. At least, relative to being treated on equal terms with the physical side of life.

As a society, there is a growing movement to remedy injustices and advocate for equality. Yet, even with the increased acknowledgment and receptivity to the reality of mental illnesses and the necessity for psychiatric and other related interventions, the inner world or the psychic side of existence still must overcome a more considerable burden of proof than the physical side.

Jung emphasizes this disparity in our treatment of the physical and the psychic in his 1957 book The Undiscovered Self, writing, “One can regard one’s stomach or heart as unimportant and worthy of contempt, but that does not prevent overeating or overexertion from having consequences that affect the whole man. Yet we think that psychic mistakes and their consequences can be got rid of with mere words, for ‘psychic’ means less than air to most people” (p.47).

Even today, the term “psychic” is likely to be less well-received than “mental” or “psychological.” However, the correspondence between the terms physical and psychic is the most logical pairing and usage for the natures being described. This may seem like an arbitrary point, but I believe that solidifying psychological terminology is essential to increase understanding and awareness of the nature, components, and disorders that occupy this psychic landscape.

Moreover, Jung’s quote can be applied to the original point of societal divisions, for he is indeed addressing a very similar topic. This is evident in his subsequent writing, “when everyone admits that the weal or woe of the future will be decided neither by threat of wild animals, nor by natural catastrophes, nor by the danger of world-wide epidemics, but simply and solely by the psychic changes in man. It needs only an almost imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers’ heads to plunge the world into blood, fire, and radioactivity” (p.47).

While on the surface, these outer divisions appear distinctly separate from that of those inner divides, Jung’s work highlights how our inner and outer worlds are deeply interconnected. Furthermore, he emphasizes how the outer worldly situations are collective externalizations of suppressed content from our inner worlds. For example, the increasing focus on materialism and objectification has parallels to how the physical side of life, and, particularly the rational and scientific side more recently, represent a one-sidedness that obscures and diminishes the significance of the inner, psychic side of life; both on the individual and collective levels.  

As psychology and the mental world gain more acknowledgment and receptivity than in previous points in time, and there is increasing focus on the outer world, Jung’s work invites us to explore the inner world as a method for understanding and addressing the variety of manifestations that arise within the outer.

Reference:

Jung, C. G., Hull, R. F. C., & Shamdasani, S. (2010;1957). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams (Bollingen) (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press.

A Return to the Beginning

We start our journey today with a different approach to writing, so I want to set the initial expectation for this piece of writing as one of being-in-process; that is, I am process writing, and you are reading with my flow of consciousness (for the most part).

My issue with writing is typically, when I want to write, I fail to think of a topic worthy of the time and effort needed for writing. Although, when speaking casually with family, friends, or colleagues, I have an abundance of topics that I wish, at the time, to write about further in the future. When the future comes, I feel stagnated, and often, this is enough to stop me from taking the initial actions necessary to express myself in written form.

As I reflect on this issue with writing, I am reminded of how frequent and ubiquitous this issue is—not the issue of writing hesitancy—the issue of being unable to think of the intermediate parts and/or the end products for a given flow; thus, this mental poverty provides me with the justification never to start the task.

In some ways, what I am referring to sounds almost like a self-fulling prophecy (and it possibly is). Nevertheless, whether what I am describing is precisely defined in the term self-fulling prophecy or my description is something similar but not yet encapsulated in static language makes no difference.

Words or phrases are just shorthand signifiers for the broader definition or concept that they represent, so in this case, I am more focused on analyzing the definition of the phenomenon I am describing and less focused on what symbol (word) is used to signify the concept that I wish to explore.

On a brief aside, what I have outlined above regarding language can be, crudely, summed up as bottom-up (definition to corresponding word/symbol) and top-down (word/symbol to definition through derivation). These terms bottom-up/top-down are used in a variety of domains and relate to many aspects of life; however, I am using them in the specific context of language.

I say this to take a second aside to briefly address how these two directions of language processing contribute to the ongoing, intensifying social-media-fueled cultural wars here in the United States. Social media floods our senses with sights and sounds, even physical sensations to a less direct degree, that are consumed with such frequency and quantity that our brains have become desensitized, to some extent, to the valuation of symbols—including words. Prior to social media and/or the internet, written symbols were not available to be consumed almost constantly and instantaneously, much less was there such an accessible avenue that allowed for these written expressions to become interactive with the engagement of others. Therefore, the abundance of symbols available in the modern age lessens the value of each individual symbol, at least, based on the principles of supply and demand ecnomics.

Even writing those last few sentences became complicated for me to track my initial point and how that corresponded to the intermediate point and the end conclusion. And, alas, we have returned from our aside movements to the opening example.

In my initial example describing my personal challenges with the writing process, I avoided taking the initial actions of preparing the necessary conditions for writing the intermediate parts and end products by using the excuse that I cannot think of these subsequent steps and, therefore, do not have sufficient cause to begin the endeavor.  

As much as I may wish that this issue mattered on an individual level, it truly does not. Still, when this same type, or form, of issue is amplified to the context of the structure of social media interactions in general, then there is likely something meaningful to analyze in the dynamics and constituents of this process.

To practice what I hope to preach, I want to be clear in defining the way in which I am using the constituent elements involved in my subsequent analysis.

First, I am defining social media as any platform or website that allows for interactions with other entities. Additionally, I am defining the internet as the broad physical and virtual infrastructure that forms the network that includes social media. The physical body can provide an analogy to better illustrate these concepts before continuing: The internet is the system and social media the various nodes. For specificity and foreshadowing future analogies, this can best be conceptualized thinking of the lymphatic system and the lymph nodes distributed within this system.

Second, starting with the definition, I am describing a process that operates in a sequential order flowing from the initial conditions, to the intermediate parts, to the end product; this process is scale-independent, meaning it can operate and can be applied to any level of a system (e.g., simple to complex, micro to macro, possibly part to whole – though this will be affirmed or negated through analysis).

Unfortunately, I lack a shorter term to function as a signifier for this definition in my vocabulary at present. Therefore, I will take the liberty of creating a term that I believe corresponds to the above description (I am open to alternative ideas).

Tripartite Flow is the term I believe best describes this particular definition in the specific way I intend to utilize it. To further elucidate the core concept that I am describing, here are a few familiar definitions similar to what I am referring to: Story – beginning, middle, and end; Time – past, present, and future.

Additionally, the body can offer another useful analogy for the concept of Tripartite Flow: One way neurons communicate with one another is through action potentials which are impulses that stimulate a cascade of events to occur that result in the transmission of information. In this example, the action potential is the intermediate step because once it is triggered, the transmission will produce an electrical impulse to move across the cell’s axon; however, the initial condition that must be present for an action potential ever to occur is a stimulus that is powerful enough to surpass the threshold potential to activate (a) the subsequent steps of action potential (b), and information transmission (c).

Before concluding this preliminary deliberation, I want to acknowledge that it is quite likely that much of what I have defined above may already have field-specific definitions (e.g., in the field of philosophy, psychology, biology, etc.). However, through today’s writing, I have realized that one of the purposes for this type of writing is to free myself personally from becoming bogged down with fretting about using the correct nomenclature. Instead, aware of the risk of possibly repeating elements of the work of others, I have chosen to engage in a stream of active deliberation that has produced fruits that are at least novel to myself. Moreover, this initial writing, both with its content and in its style, has provided a foothold for future writings, as I realized during the process how the various topics that continually manifest in my speech could be expressed through the written word if I remove some of the mental barriers imposed on myself that are limiting my expression.

Exposition of Modern Discourse

Technology has provided a medium through which we are allowed opportunities to feel a sense of social connection and communal belonging; however, real or actual these people or interactions may be, the objective reality of this activity is often overlooked or ignored: it is still mediated through an individual’s interaction with a piece of technology; that is, it is still me, the individual author, typing away at this keyboard, viewing words on my screen, and conceptualizing a general audience who will read these words.

However, no matter my degree of precision or accuracy, there will always be a degree of disconnect between my intention and the audience’s interpretation. Nonetheless, the medium of the written tradition using expository prose has far deeper roots than those of Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or other modern-day, internet-based forms of communication.

The historicity of the linguistic form of prose provides my expression a higher probability of concordance between the audience’s reception and my intention as the author. Conversely, these new social media platforms lack this kind of historical foundation yet are treated as if they are the same. As a result, tools of rhetorical analysis and logical examination are employed while using these platforms that I argue demonstrate an invalid usage of such analytical tools.  

For example, one common distortion that I believe social media platforms have allowed to become rampant is conflating particular and universal statements. These platforms are intended to provide an outlet for truncated expressions, yet we utilize them as if they may also allow us the nuance of having an in-person debate. Moreover, we forget how arduous it is to use language precisely and employ logic even during in-person interactions.

Using nonverbal communication, oral expression, and gauging the reception of our message through analyzing our audience’s demeanor, serve to highlight the complexity of in-person interaction, despite this medium being biologically hardwired. However, we have somehow found ourselves assuming that this same level of human communication can be experienced via technological mediums.

Yet, is reading not different than hearing? Is interacting through Zoom not different than interacting with someone in person? Is it not different to interact with someone one-on-one rather than to interact in front of a group?

Social media platforms are so often vilified for promoting division and groupthink among people—and I am not here to defend these mediums—instead, I desire to point out that these platforms are nothing more than a technological medium that has amplified and underscored fundamental issues within human communication that were present before these platforms existed.

Therefore, my emphasis is to not place our hope in the notion that abandoning the usage of these platforms or refining the etiquette of how they are used will solve the divisions we are witnessing as a collective society. Even if we were to leave these platforms altogether and return to a prior state of communication standards, we still would be plagued by our challenges with wielding language, our proclivity toward fallacious arguments, and reliance on personal biases.

While technological interconnectivity may have accelerated these ailments, even accentuating them to new levels, it is nonetheless exploiting weaknesses in human communication and social discourse that have long existed.

The emphasis should be placed on understanding the tools of rhetoric, the structure of logic, and the importance and purpose of argumentation as a medium for discovering the truth. To place the burden on social media platforms or even news sources is to fall, once more, into the trap of oversimplification, treating everything as either a friend or foe in a perpetual fight on one side or the other of a raging societal debate—all the while glossing over or willfully ignoring the deficits of discourse that continue to result in arguments premised on false dilemmas, misunderstandings stemming from conflated terms, and so forth.

I believe we are desperately craving conversations that are deeper than those mediated through social media platforms. Unfortunately, these platforms also serve as the easiest and most accessible way for us to connect with a vast number of others; moreover, social media has become integrated into our social lives and does allow for genuine social connection, despite it being a novel medium for it.

However, the structures of these platforms are not neutral. Even for those who set out with the sincere desire to engage in an authentic social interaction can easily find their desire for a meaningful discourse devolve into debates and diatribes, serving only to increase their sense of isolation and wish to find a community that provides a sense of belonging.