Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point (part 2: metaconsciousness)

Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point (part 2: metaconsciousness)

This is part two of Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point.

Click on this link to read Part 1

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’.[1] 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’.[2] 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.

Moving now to the fourfold structure of consciousness, the first and most well-known Jungian quaternity is the four functions of consciousness: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting[3]:

When the psychic contents are split up into four aspects, it means that they have been subjected to discrimination by the four orienting functions of consciousness. Only the production of these four aspects makes a total description possible. The process described by our formula changes the original unconscious totality into a conscious one. [4]

These four functions and their role in consciousness have been thoroughly explored by Jung in Psychological Types, Collected Works, Vol. 6; Von Franz in The Inferior Function (1971); and by the work of a host of other Jungians, including the well-known Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I will not tread again such familiar ground and raise it only as the first and most fundamental quaternity in describing consciousness and to make the point that, for Jung, it is the synthesised application of these four functions that allows a ‘total description’ and through such a process that an unconscious content becomes conscious. It is to two other quaternities within which consciousness can be understood that I should like us now to turn.

In ‘Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self’ in Collected Works Vol. 9 Part 2, Jung draws a comparison between his four functions of consciousness and the fourfold structure of scientific understanding, at least as he sees it, here described as: time−space, and causality−correspondence (or synchronicity).[5] From this we may possibly  infer that these too may be understood as a parallel quaternity necessary for conscious discrimination.  This gives us eight orienting aspects of consciousness, four functions (thinking-feeling, sensing-intuiting) and four points of reality (time−space, causality−correspondence) on which to map the functions. Certainly, if we hold Jung to his avowed Kantian model of phenomenal reality, then this scientific−description−quaternity is built into the process of conscious cognition, being a necessary category of perception.[6]

The other quaternity that Jung provides for us is from ‘Religious ideas in alchemy’[7], an alchemical model of the intellect or intelligence. The model comes from the ‘Treatise of Platonic Tetralogies’ and is a fourfold model both horizontally and vertically that resonates with the two previous quaternities. In distilling this model, the following emerge as the stages of intellectual function: perception, discrimination, reason, and completion or, to express this more completely, emergence (perception), separation (discrimination), intellectual judgements (reason), and completion. The act of apperception is here synonymous with discrimination (ibid). This idea of completion is somewhat nebulous, but frequently referenced by Jung to the Maria Prophetissa axiom: one becomes two, two becomes three, and three becomes one as the fourth.[8] In simpler terms we may say that the completion of the process produces not only its own end (four, in this case), but a new unity (one): the idea that consciousness is transformative, and that the unity that emerges from the three stages is no longer the same as it was prior to the process.  That the attainment of consciousness should be the goal of analysis is clear, consciousness being invested with superior value, that is, in relation to the unconscious[9], and being the ‘supreme aim of the opus psychologicum’.[10] This makes sense if one envisions analysis as a process that aims to transform and consciousness as the agent of transformation.

Let me summarise briefly the essential elements of consciousness for Jung that we have articulated up to this point. Consciousness is necessarily ego consciousness. It is the provider and guarantor of freedom or free-will. Consciousness discriminates, integrates, purifies and creates. Consciousness polarises; it is always the consciousness of opposites. It is composed of a quaternity of functions: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. As we observed, embedded in this quaternity is the fourfold structure of (scientific) understanding, time−space and causality−correspondence. Finally, the act of consciousness produces a new unity (creation) through the application of its dynamic. At least in part,  Jung’s conception of consciousness is consistent with the field of psychology as it emerged in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It must be acknowledged that there is considerable depth, subtlety and complexity in his ideas that resist excessive reduction or simplification. We have identified and articulated some of these central ideas. In conclusion I would like to highlight a paradox that emerges in Jung’s exposition on consciousness.

Set against this reification of consciousness, in ‘Individual dream symbolism in relation to alchemy’ Jung makes the point that consciousness should not be seen as understood, described or quantified and, moreover, that neither is it necessarily a cohesive and homogenous whole:

We do not yet possess […] a general theory of consciousness from which we can draw deductive conclusions. The manifestations of the subjective psyche, or consciousness, can be predicted only to the smallest degree, and there is no theoretical argument to prove beyond doubt that any causal connection necessarily exists between them. On the contrary we have to reckon with a high degree of arbitrariness and ‘chance’ in the complex actions and reactions of the conscious mind.[11]

This is a crucial passage where Jung deconstructs consciousness, suggesting its ‘arbitrary’ and ‘chance’ nature. This seems to be in direct contradistinction to Jung’s usual glowing description of consciousness as an active agent of change and the critical pivot point of psychic transformation; whilst not necessarily contradictory, it certainly portrays consciousness in a very different light. In describing consciousness in such a fashion, Jung approaches closer the views of the contemporary study of consciousness. This faces the challenge of discovering the unified entity referred to as the conscious mind.[12] This description of consciousness, having a high degree of ‘chance’ in its complex actions and reactions, and questioning the causal link between ‘the manifestations of the subjective psyche’, was remarkably perspicacious considering the very limited tools that Jung had at his disposal.  The extraordinary echo of these same issues rebounds in the contemporary study of consciousness, a science with the benefit of the last fifty years of extensive empirical research,  brain imaging techniques that did not exist when Jung was writing, and the dedicated work of many distinguished philosophers of the mind.

Where does this leave us?

On the one hand, Jung seemed to deify consciousness. He described it as a ‘spiritual goal’. On the other hand, he also described it in naturalistic terms as having an ‘arbitrary’ expression that we understand as being largely consistent with the contemporary study of consciousness. I propose that the best and perhaps only way to resolve this paradoxical description is to understand Jung as actually referring to two phenomenally and ontologically related, but different, things. On the one hand, we have a description of consciousness consistent with a naturalistic, one might even say biological, description; a consciousness that is a shared property of all sentient life forms.  On the other hand, a particular type of consciousness is described that seems almost transcendent in nature and that Jung described in aspirational terms. For the sake of clarity, to distinguish these two descriptions I propose the term metaconsciousness for the latter.

I do not suggest that this term is adequate to the task of differentiating this from natural consciousness, nor that it is original, although this might be to its advantage. The formulation is used in line with the idea of metacognition by Flavell[13] and, to a lesser degree, its use by Schooler[14] and the natural etymology of the word. It should not be confused with Freud’s metapsychology, a term denoting an abstract psychic topography[15]  firmly rooted in the biology of the brain.[16] Nevertheless, I suggest it here as a suitable phrase that may aid us in our project of disambiguation and serve as a suitable placeholder until we have a better understanding of the exact nature of this aspirational form of consciousness in Jung’s psychology.

What is ‘metaconsciousness’ for Jung?

Metaconsciousness is consciousness of consciousness. It is an abstraction, in the same sense that language is an abstraction; it is a consciousness born from language and may be compared to structuralism, although not synonymous. It is a state that emerges from an internal process that, although not limited solely to language, is dialectical in nature. It employs discourse, using words along with imagery, sensation, feeling and intuition to create a new phenomenon, something that did not exist prior to the transformative process involved at arriving at the metaconscious state. It is closely bound up with meaning, it evaluates, discerns, bestows, and creates meaning, and it is only through this metaconscious dynamic that meaning comes into existence. I echo my earlier description but substitute this new term: metaconsciousness is the goal, the means, and the journey. The best image we have for this metaconsciousness, provided by Jung from alchemical imagery, is the Lapis or philosophers’ stone.

Stephen Anthony Farah (May 2023)

Consciousness: Articulating the Archimedean Point (Part 1)

Link to references

[1] Jung, 1954/1968, ¶ 178

[2] ibid, 1921/1971, ¶ 346

[3] ibid, 1921/1971

[4] ibid, 1951/1968b, ¶ 410

[5] ibid, 1951/1968b, ¶ 409

[6] ibid, 1921/1971, ¶ 512−516

[7] 1937/1968, ¶ 366−372

[8] Jung, 1944/1968, ¶ 26

[9] ibid, 1930/1966, ¶ 51; 1947/1969, ¶ 384−385

[10] ibid, 1946/1966, ¶ 471

[11] (ibid, 1936/1968, ¶ 48)

[12] Chalmers, 2010, pp. 497–539

[13] (1976, p. 232)

[14] Schooler & Schreiber, 2004

[15] Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, p. 103

[16] Tresan, 1996, p. 401

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Comments (6)

  • Kathy Bochicchio Reply

    Thank you. ❤️ I started with Part 2

    May 18, 2023 at 9:29 pm
  • Bridie Tulloch Reply

    Thank you, your lectures are really fascinating. I’m benefiting from the self-reflective practices.

    May 22, 2023 at 10:15 pm
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Thank you Bridie, I’m very pleased to hear that.

      June 1, 2023 at 8:41 am
  • Heather Brooks-Hill Reply

    Stephen, a deep look and profound exploration of this topic. So might this be similar to an out of body experience in which one is looking down, or beyond oneself, at oneself? An analogy of the archimedian point? Hmmmm…..

    May 27, 2023 at 10:09 pm
    • Stephen Farah Reply

      Thank you Heather, yes, I think that is a fair analogy.

      June 1, 2023 at 8:40 am
  • Jean Francois Vezina Reply

    Regarding Archimede….

    Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny promised a return to form to a young Harrison Ford. The latest film in the adventure franchise sees Jones (Ford) embark on a global, continent-spanning search for a device — and its various pieces scrambled across the world — built by Greek philosopher Archimedes that is said to manipulate the fissures of time. The issue? A former Nazi is also on the hunt for the time-travel contraption, named Antikythera, with the hopes of hopping back to World War II–era Germany and delivering the fascists the key to victory.

    The Antikythera mechanism (/ˌæntɪkɪˈθɪərə/ AN-tih-kih-THEER-ə) is an Ancient Greek hand-powered orrery, described as the oldest known example of an analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses decades in advance. It could also be used to track the four-year cycle of athletic games which was similar to an Olympiad, the cycle of the ancient Olympic Games. Source, Wiki…..

    June 8, 2023 at 10:20 pm

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