Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point (Part 1)

Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point (Part 1)

I do not know whether it is desirable that consciousness should alter the eternal laws; I only know that occasionally it does alter them.

(Jung, 1928/1966, ¶ 389)

Consciousness is central to Jungian theory and application, both academically and clinically, this being the metaphorical Archimedean Point of the Jungian psyche[1], notwithstanding Jung’s perceived focus on the unconscious and the archetypal processes invoked by Jung to expand, amplify, and generally increase the vistas of the personality. Most importantly, for Jung a personality that is related to the ego and, as such, is conscious.

Jung described a tripartite model of the psyche: the conscious mind, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious[2]. The natural emphasis that is placed on the unconscious factor in the psyche by Jung and psychodynamic theorists in toto leads many to the mistaken conclusion of its superior value on the journey to wholeness.

The opposite is true. It is consciousness from whence the journey begins and it is consciousness that is its ultimate destination, albeit a richer, deeper and broader consciousness if the inner journey has been fruitful.[3] Regarded in the light of its ‘discovery’  in psychoanalysis by Freud, the unconscious factor needed to be stressed to become recognised, in order to balance the excessively high regard for conscious rationalism existing in the early years of psychoanalysis.[4] It is consciousness that constitutes our ultimate goal and, for Jung, it takes on a spiritual and cosmic significance:

From Nairobi we used a small Ford to visit the Athi Plains, a great game preserve. From a low hill in this broad savanna a magnificent prospect opened out to us. To the very brink of the horizon we saw gigantic herds of animals: gazelle, antelope, gnu, zebra, warthog, and so on. Grazing, heads nodding, the herds moved forward like slow rivers. There was scarcely any sound save the melancholy cry of a bird of prey. This was the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in the state of non-being; for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world. I walked away from my companions until I had put them out of sight, and savored the feeling of being entirely alone. There I was now, the first human being to recognize that this was the world, but who did not know that in this moment he had first really created it.

There the cosmic meaning of consciousness became overwhelmingly clear to me. “What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects,” say the alchemists. Man, I, in an invisible act of creation put the stamp of perfection on the world by giving it objective existence.

This act we usually ascribe to the Creator alone, without considering that in so doing we view life as a machine calculated down to the last detail, which, along with the human psyche, runs on senselessly, obeying foreknown and predetermined rules. In such a cheerless clockwork fantasy there is no drama of man, world, and God; there is no “new day” leading to “new shores” but only the dreariness of calculated processes.

My old Pueblo friend came to my mind. He thought that the raison d’etre of his pueblo had been to help their father, the sun, to cross the sky each day. I had envied him for the fullness of meaning in that belief, and had been looking about without hope for a myth of our own. Now I knew what it was, and knew even more: that man is indispensable for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being.

(Jung, 1961/1963, ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, pp. 284−285)

In this excerpt from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, perhaps more than anywhere else we see the almost religious value Jung assigns to consciousness. As we will see, for Jung consciousness occupies a parallel tripartite model to the meta-psychic model described above (conscious mind, personal unconscious, collective unconscious).  Consciousness is the goal, the means and the journey. It is consciousness to which we (should) strive; it is through consciousness that we will arrive at the goal; and it is in consciousness that transformative experiences – which further raise consciousness – occur. So, to use the alchemical metaphor of which Jung was so fond, we can think of consciousness as the Lapis, the Athanor and the Crucible.

With this in mind, let us ask what the qualities of this consciousness are and what is the role it plays in the psyche. Fortunately, Jung is quite forthcoming and the three consecutive terms, conscious, conscious mind and consciousness, fill just over six pages of entries in the General Index to the Collected Works (1979, pp. 182−188). Many of these replicate similar ideas with variations of expression and context, but through careful analysis of these disbursed entries a few salient, convergent, and consistent themes emerge.

A good starting point in any conversation about consciousness is the central issue of identity or, more accurately, our sense of identity, who we consider ourselves to be, the issue of the ego at the centre of consciousness. In any case, this seems to be a critical parameter for Jung in defining consciousness.[5] It is perhaps the first of these from Psychological Types, Collected Works Vol. 6, ‘Definitions’, that is the clearest:

By consciousness I understand the relation of psychic contents to the ego (q. v), in so far as this relation is perceived as such by the ego. Relations to the ego that are not perceived as such are unconscious (q. v). Consciousness is the function or activity which maintains the relation of psychic contents to the ego. Consciousness is not identical with the psyche (v. Soul), because the psyche represents the totality of all psychic contents, and these are not necessarily all directly connected with the ego, i.e., related to it in such a way that they take on the quality of consciousness.

(Collected Works Vol. 6, ¶ 700)

On this Jung is clear; consciousness by definition is ego consciousness. No consciousness can exist without a subject, without someone to say ‘I am conscious’. [6]We may imagine, then, intentionality and intelligence existing outside of the domain of ego consciousness, for example in the unconscious or in nature. However, we cannot assign the label of consciousness to these entities unless we simultaneously assume a subject at the centre of that consciousness. For the purposes of our investigation and in line with Jung’s intention, it is with this ego consciousness that we are concerned in our study of a Jungian definition of consciousness.

Ego is not only an essential characteristic of consciousness but is the very centre of consciousness (ibid). Consciousness occurs to and envelopes a perceiving subject, the conscious ego, or simply the ego. This introduces the element of duality into consciousness. The perceiving ‘I’ or subject necessarily cannot be synonymous with the conscious contents that it perceives. The moment one were to suppose either an ontological (objective) or phenomenal (subjective) perfect identification between the subject and the conscious content, the very definition of conscious would cease to exist.

A good way to understand this is provided by the philosopher Sartre in Being and Nothingness. [7]The ‘for-itself’ (the subject) can never be the ‘in-itself’ (conscious content). ‘Consciousness is consciousness of something. This means that transcendence is the constitutive structure of consciousness; that is, that consciousness arises oriented towards a being which is not itself’.[8] In this way Sartre describes a consciousness that can never be identified or identifiable with its object. In this same way we must read Jung’s dyadic structure of the consciousness dynamic: subject (ego, at the centre and perceiving) − object (conscious content, that which is perceived).

Inasmuch as consciousness is a spiritual goal for Jung, we might here compare it with the Vedic or Buddhist idea of self-realisation. This may be less than a perfect parallel, but the juxtaposition of consciousness and ‘self-realisation’ in Eastern thought is interesting. There seems to be a significant difference in that Jung’s model of consciousness, as we have seen, of necessity has an ego and a dualistic character. Both are antithetical to the idea of self-realisation in Eastern mysticism that seeks the dissolution of ego consciousness and liberation from duality.[9] To bring these two schools of thought closer one might be able to say that the term ‘ego’ here can be understood in two different ways. First, ego may be and usually is understood in depth psychology as the sense of personal identity. However, inasmuch as Jung assigns ego to the centre of consciousness it may, and possibly should, be understood as being closer to the idea of a transcendental subject.[10] Nevertheless, this is still far from the non-dual consciousness of the self-realised Eastern mystic, or Jnani.

I move now to what is arguably the definitive issue in considering Jung as a philosopher of mind and representing the broad field of depth psychology, the issue of conscious or ‘free’ will. It is possibly this idea more than any other that will see Jung’s definition of the conscious subject either find its place in contemporary philosophy of mind or be dismissed as ill informed.  Perhaps it is here that the Archimedean point is most applicable as a metaphor for consciousness in Jungian theory. The idea of disposable libido in the hands of a conscious subject, directed by conscious choice, is what allows consciousness to intervene in the ‘natural order’ and by so doing to alter that order, whether the natural order of cosmos or the natural order of the psychic economy. [11]

We can reasonably assume that this idea of a consciously directable will is germane to the clinical practice of depth psychology generally, and to analytical psychology particularly. A therapeutic cornerstone is the idea of ‘becoming conscious’ of content of which we were previously unconscious; clinical practice presupposes this very assumption. It is here that we see consciousness clearly highlighted as an agent of change. This line of thinking is principally conceived in terms of the patient’s conscious mind but, considering the axiomatic assumptions of all clinical psychology, we could equally say it is applicable to the psychologist’s consciousness; the assumption is that the psychologist is able consciously to intervene in the psychic economy of their patient. In each case consciousness is perceived as an active agent of change. The challenges to this assumption from contemporary philosophy of mind we will consider later in this work. For the present, let us look solely at Jung’s ideas of conscious will.

For Jung, the very possibility of freedom is dependent on consciousness. It is consciousness that is the arbiter mundi of the psyche, and without it an excessively ‘mechanistic’ view of the psyche is acquired.[12] Jung conceives this idea of consciously directed will in a few different but associated ways. The first and most basic view, in line with the philosophical conception of free will,  is the idea of choice, that consciousness is able to make a choice, and that such choice is not wholly determined by unconscious impulses and inescapably determined by a prior causal chain.[13] Added to this view is the idea that with intervention consciousness can effect change on the unconscious impulse. That unconscious compulsions can become the province of conscious determination[14], and that consciousness is an instrument of moral and ethical determination.[15]

Building on this foundation of the conscious subject (ego) as an active and directing agent, Jung posits consciousness as having the qualities of discrimination[16], integration[17], purification[18], and creativity[19]. Moreover, Jung perceives consciousness to have a clearly defined dynamic and structure. Specifically, its dynamic is polarisation, hence the birth of the opposites for which Jung is so well-known. The conscious structure is described by Jung as a quaternity.

The conflict between the two dimensions of consciousness is simply an expression of the polaristic structure of the psyche, which like any energetic system is dependent on the tension of opposites. That is also why there are no general psychological propositions which could not just as well be reversed; indeed, their reversibility proves their validity. [20]

It is difficult to overemphasise this polarising dynamic of consciousness. Consciousness, for Jung, means consciousness of the opposites: ‘There is no consciousness without the discrimination of opposites’[21]. Jung’s preferred image here is the Ouroboros, an image of the opposites facing each other in conscious awareness, illustrating the birth of (meta) consciousness.  Against this Jung considered ‘involuntary one-sidedness, i.e., the inability to be anything but one-sided, [as] a sign of barbarism’.[22] It follows organically that discrimination is the essential feature of consciousness and, possibly for Jung at least, the default function of consciousness in the global psychic economy.

Part 1 of 2

Link to Part 2 –

Stephen Anthony Farah (May 2023)



[1] Jung, 1910/1968, ¶ 159

[2] Jung, 1921/1971, ¶ 700, 837−843

[3] Jung, 1946/1966, ¶ 471; 1947/1960, ¶ 384−385

[4] Jung, 1930/1966, ¶ 51

[5] Jung, 1921/1971, ¶ 700; ibid, 1939/1968, ¶ 506; ibid, 1951/1968b, ¶ 1−2.

[6] Jung, 1939/1968, ¶ 506

[7] 1943/1957

[8] Being and Nothingness, p. 17

[9] Benoit, 1955/1990, pp. 1–5, 68−71

[10] Jung, 1951/1968a, ¶ 289)

[11] Jung, 1951/1968b, ¶ 253; 1928/1966, ¶ 389

[12] Jung, 1930/1966, ¶ 51

[13] Jung, 1948/1968, ¶ 454−455; 1928/1966, ¶ 389

[14] Jung, 1948/1968, ¶ 454

[15] Jung, par 455; 1951/1968b, ¶ 253

[16] (ibid, 1921/1971, ¶ 179; 1954/1968, ¶ 178)

[17] (ibid, 1921/1971, ¶ 683; 1931/1966, ¶ 111)

[18] (ibid, 1950/1968, ¶ 593; 1951/1968b, ¶ 253)

[19] Jung, 1961/1963, pp. 284−285; 1954/1968, ¶ 177

[20] Jung, 1955/1968, ¶ 483

[21] Jung, 1954/1968, ¶ 178

[22] Jung 1921/1971, ¶ 346

Link to references

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Comments (4)

  • Suzanne McEwan Reply

    Is Part 2 yet to be published? Thank you.

    May 15, 2023 at 4:55 pm
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Hi Suzanne, yes I’ll post it later this week, probably on Thursday.

      May 15, 2023 at 4:58 pm
  • Etel Harris Reply

    Brilliant paper. Thanks Stephen.

    June 2, 2023 at 4:42 pm
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Thank you Etel. Much appreciated.

      June 3, 2023 at 5:43 pm

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