Mechanics And The Collective Unconscious
The Collective Unconscious Revisited
The C. Word
As will become
apparent in this section, using the word 'consciousness' to denote some
active principle of the brain or aspect of cognition is a popular sport.
The problem is that these users of 'consciousness' hardly ever stop to
define the word or the concept, so that it becomes a chameleon passe-partout.
The problem of the definition of the word was addressed comprehensively
in Agent Human: Consciousness At The Service Of The Group;
see particularly the Introduction. A summary of that material is included
as Appendix One of this volume.
consciousness literature, sometimes the C. word is used to denote some
guiding force outside any or all brains as such, human or otherwise; sometimes
it is used to describe a combination of what we would term the conscious
and the unconscious; and sometimes it incorporates the idea of the collective
unconscious, that is, a resource or 'field' that is supplementary to and
may be external to any known, neurally-based cognitive brain process,
to which all humans have access through an unknown mechanism, or at least
which can have an impact on human individual development, and represents
in some measure a storehouse of human archetypes and the moral burden
of human groupishness.
Before arriving at a treatment,
in a later chapter, of how the concept of the collective unconscious has
taken on greater proportions over the past decades, due partly to the
gradual exploration of quantum mechanics, so that its outlines can be
glimpsed partially and intermittently through the fog of our ignorance,
we mean to review briefly some of the more relevant thinkers who have
attempted to tackle the problem of consciousness and the collective unconscious,
in the context of psi and/or quantum mechanics, from a variety of perspectives
over the last 100 years or so. They are in alphabetical order. This is
by no means intended to be a complete survey of the field; it is merely
a collection of disparate theories which illustrates the type and variety
of thinking being applied to the problem. Theorists who have worked directly
on neural and behavioural aspects of the phenomenon of consciousness itself
are dealt with much more thoroughly in Agent
Human: Consciousness At The Service Of The Group.
Cleveland Backster (1924 - 2013) was mentioned in Chapter Two. He
proposed the existence of a 'field' which interconnects all life forms,
and allows a form of biocommunication which he termed 'primary perception'
and some commentators have likened to esp. Backster's experiments have
been replicated on a number of occasions, but there has been some methodological
criticism of the work.
John Carew Eccles (1903 – 1997), neurophysiologist, was a professor
at the University of Otago in New Zealand and at the John Curtin School
of Medical Research of the Australian National University. He won the
1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on synapses. Later
he worked in US universities. Study of the 'mind-body' problem was a lifelong
preoccupation; he agreed with Karl Popper's analysis of the three worlds
(roughly, the material world, the world of subjective knowledge, and the
world of human intellectual constructs). Together with Popper he wrote
(1977) The Self and its Brain, in which he speculates that the
self-conscious mind (aka consciousness) directly operates on the synapses
in the brain. John Eccles was highly religious and certainly accepted
the likely role of an external agency (we may call it God) in the operation
of evolution and physiological development. Later he wrote How The
Self Controls Its Brain, in which he expands on the neural mechanisms
involved in conscious control of the brain: he called the fundamental
neural units of the cerebral cortex "dendrons", which are cylindrical
bundles of neurons arranged vertically in the six outer layers or laminae
of the cortex, each cylinder being about 60 micrometres in diameter. Eccles
proposed that each of the 40 million dendrons is linked with a mental
unit, or "psychon", representing a unitary conscious experience.
In willed actions and thought, psychons act on dendrons and, for a moment,
increase the probability of the firing of selected neurons through a quantum
tunneling effect in synaptic exocytosis, while in perception the reverse
process takes place.
Hameroff (born 1947) is Emeritus Professor for Anaesthesiology and
Psychology at the University of Oxford and associate director for the
Center for Consciousness Studies. With Sir Roger Penrose (born 1931),
Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute
of the University of Oxford, he developed a theory of consciousness based
on quantum effects in micro-tubules in neurons, labelled Orch-OR (orchestrated
objective reduction). Microtubules are protein polymers inside brain neurons,
and are thought to govern both neuronal and synaptic function. Under their
theory, first promulgated towards the end of the last century, and met
with by a barrage of criticism from many other consciousness researchers,
micro-tubules are a likely site for quantum effects to manifest themselves,
making opportunities for tunneling between different regions of the brain,
and creating a basis for consciousness to arise. The authors go further,
asserting that consciousness is a universal phenomenon, a position which
is close to panpsychism.
revised version of the Orch-OR theory, responding to some of the criticisms
that had been voiced, was published in 2011; and in 2014 Hameroff and
Penrose compiled a review of the status of the theory in Physics
of Life Reviews, accompanied by critical commentary and responses
2014, a group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD,
at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and
now at MIT) reported the discovery of 'quantum vibrations' in microtubules
in brain neurons. The vibrations appear to form interference patterns,
producing the well-known but much slower EEG 'beat frequencies', whose
origins have long been mysterious. Until this work, there was no relevant
experimental evidence that such quantum phenomena exist in the brain,
although in 2012 (see Chapter Two) Summhammer
et al modelled ion channels that conduct electrical membrane signals
in the nervous system, building potentials that propagate along the membranes.
The model shows that alkali ions can become highly delocalized in the
filter region of proteins at warm temperatures, so that quantum effects
result in faster and more selective transmission of ions. Many
researchers say that the relatively hot and wet conditions of neural tissue
make quantum entanglement physically unlikely, or at least too short-lived
to permit its use in cognitive traffic, but recently entanglement has
been shown to exist in many more situations than initially predicted.
by now it seems that quantum effects are implicated across a wide range
of cell functions (see Chapters 4 and 5), and while it seems self-evident
that neuronal activity is a part of the functioning of consciousness,
it is a major step from there to the assertions of Orch-OR. The theory
treats consciousness as a unitary phenomenon, whereas Agent Human charts
its emergence through a series of stages linked to the increasing sophistication
of the neural apparatus. As one commentator said, Hameroff and Penrose
have linked quantum mechanics and consciousness with little more basis
than the fact that both are mysterious.
Hardy Ph.D. is a psychological anthropologist who has conducted cross-cultural
investigations into states of consciousness and techniques of mental self-control
over a period of several years, during her travels in the Middle East,
the Far East and Africa. She was president of Interface Psi (LRIP), a
research association investigating extended psychophysical interactions
and latent human potentials, for more than ten years. Hardy's “Semantic
Fields theory” based on a merging of neural nets, chaos theory and
systems theory views the mind as a lattice of semantic constellations
or SeCos, generated by the interplay of experience, genetic constraints
and cultural context.
are self-organized dynamical networks that interweave processes ranging
from high-level abstract ones to low-level neuronal ones. From the perspective
of semantic fields theory, psi events are a fundamental feature of the
underlying connective dynamics across SeCos-networks. It is postulated
that the mind is also the source of a projective process imprinting
organization and order upon the outer world. This dynamic generates
a semantic dimension in objects themselves – eco-semantic fields
or eco-fields. As suggested, semantic connective processes are organized
not by space-time parameters, but by semantic parameters (such as semantic
proximity), which instantiate nonlocal connections between distant semantic
fields – whether between minds or between minds and the environment.
Semantic dynamics are the ground for both ESP and PK phenomena, whether
conscious or nonconscious. The model hypothesizes that the organizing
influence of the mind on surrounding eco-fields will affect the nature
and probability of events connected to the person. . . .
my position is that we may assume mind as being a necessary condition
for psi, and explore the mental facet of psi, while leaving open the
possibility that additional necessary condition(s) will turn up at some
later date. . . . Insofar as psi seems to be non-dependent (in the sense
of a necessary condition) on Newtonian time and space parameters, it
displays nonlocality. . . . While I think the case for quantum events
in the brain is well grounded, and that psi theories based on QM are
an important line of research for physicists, I also believe it is sound
to focus on the global architecture and dynamics of the mind, without
committing to a particular view on quantum brain processes."
Hardy has a position which, while fully accepting quantum effects as being
central to the operation of psi, and of psi as being integral to human
cognitive processes, stops short of creating a separate external 'field';
and she does not take a position on the collective unconscious.
G. Jahn, Ph.D. (born April 1, 1930 and mentioned in Chapter Three
in the context of psi) is a retired American plasma physicist, Professor
of Aerospace Science, and Dean of Engineering at Princeton University.
Jahn studied psychic and parapsychological phenomena for many years. With
Brenda Dunne, he established the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research
Lab (PEAR) in 1979; PEAR reported statistically significant causal relationships
between intention in subjects' minds and the behaviour of electronic random
event generators, i.e. that the results generated are non-random. These
effects are termed low-level PK (psychokinesis). There is a problem that
'consciousness' is taken as the proponent of the effects, but as usual
this is probably just a misuse of the term, and unconscious processes
are also allowed to be part of it. It's another 'field' theory, allowing
for interaction ('resonance') between individuals and machines. Jahn and
PEAR have produced many books and papers on the subject, of which the
reference below is one example. Jahn notes that the mind/machine phenomena
display many similarities with quantum mechanical effects, but he does
not directly say that the two are related.
Gustav Jung (1875-1961) certainly believed in the existence of a collective
unconscious for humans, seeing it as a repository of archetypal, mythic
material common to all humans. He wrote about it in numerous publications,
of which The
Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (1958) is the most obvious.
In Psychology and the Occult, he said:
attachment to the brain, i.e., its space-time limitation, is no longer
as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to
believe. . . . It is not only permissible to doubt the absolute validity
of space-time perception; it is, in view of the available facts, even
imperative to do so."
However, Jung did
not attempt to describe the mechanisms by which a collective unconscious
might come into being or communicate with individual humans. In The
Structure of the Psyche he said:
unconscious – so far as we can say anything about it at all –
appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for
which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact,
the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the
collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious
in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual."
work on 'synchronicity', described in the Introduction,
moved a step towards the concept of an external field, but not necessarily
identifying it with the collective unconscious.
Laughlin, Ph.D., born 1938, is a professor of anthropology in the Department
of Sociology & Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada. His theories (1996) regarding the 'quantum
sea' were described briefly in the Introduction, and amount to another
'field' theory; but while he admits connections between archetypes, the
collective and the 'quantum sea', he does not explicitly locate them in
the 'sea', indeed the contrary:
archetypes as structures mediating intuitive and symbolic knowledge
are undoubtedly located in the areas of the nervous system that appear
to have evolved most dramatically during the course of hominid encephalization
and that produce the distinctly human quality of mentation, learning,
communication, and social action characteristic of our species today.
hypothesizes however that there are multiple quantum-type interconnections
between the 'sea' and the brain.
McDougall (1871-1938), a psychologist, taught at Duke University from
1927 until his death, and also carried out experiments in the University's
Parapsychological Laboratory, in which he demonstrated that successive
generations of rats learned to escape from mazes more quickly than previous
generations. Lamarckian explanations for this effect have been denied
by other researchers. McDougall's hormic theory says that members of a
species have a set of shared goals which they pursue more or less regardless
of individual experience, and which he equates to instinct, although not
in a strictly genetic sense. This is again a 'field' theory; the species'
goals exist outside their expression in any given individual. Says McDougall
(An Introduction to Social Psychology):
is an energy manifestation; but the hormic theory does not presume to
say just what form or forms of energy or transformations of energy are
involved. It seems to involve liberation of energy potential, or latent
in chemical form in the tissues; and hormic theory welcomes any information
about such transformations that physiological chemistry can furnish.'
For McDougall, the
rats' learning takes place in the hormic field, and should therefore be
applicable by rats wherever they are, and some researchers have brought
forward evidence that such species learning does take place; one example
is the ability of sheep to pass cattle grids by rolling over them. McDougall
does not propose any mechanism according to which a hormic field might
operate. Separately, McDougall wrote about 'The Group Mind' (at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40826/40826-h/40826-h.htm),
but it doesn't venture into the collective unconscious; it's more to do
with the formation of national identity, and actually rejects the notion
of a 'collective consciousness'.
D Nelson, Ph.D., born 1940, was Coordinator of Research at the Princeton
Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory at Princeton University
under Robert Jahn (see above) from 1980 to 2002, and has directed the
Global Consciousness Project (GCP), since its inception in 1997. The Project
aims to test the impact of communal consciousness, particularly at moments
of heightened global attention or arousal, such as 9/11 or New Year's
Eve, on the behaviour of random event generators (REG) worldwide, which
feed their results into Princeton. Nelson says: 'an inclusive and multi-disciplinary
approach combining scientific, aesthetic, and spiritual perspectives is
essential if we are to come to terms with consciousness as it exists and
operates in the physical world.' The results of the research suggest something
like a 'consciousness field', generated by resonant or coherent interactions
of groups during special moments, says the laboratory, calling it a 'noosphere'.
Statistically significant results have been reported.
A Persinger (born June 26, 1945) was described in the previous chapter
in the context of 'remote seeing' experiments. He has proposed a non-local
'field' in which extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves may be
able to carry telepathic and clairvoyant information.
Karl Raimund Popper (1902 - 1994), Austrian-born, lived most of his
professional life in the UK, and is best known for his work on the philosophical
aspects of science. His doctorate was in psychology, but from 1949 he
was professor of logic and scientific method at the University of London.
He was eminent in many fields of philosophical enquiry. Popper did some
work on quantum mechanics (he was against the Copenhagen understanding),
supporting Albert Einstein's theories of relativity, and he wrote extensively
on free will, influenced partly by the indeterminacy of nature. But his
relevance to the current subject stems mostly from his collaboration with
Sir John Eccles on their book The Self and its Brain (1977),
which is described above. He was profoundly dualist.
I M Rae, Lecturer, Department of Physics, University of Birmingham,
UK, is the author of a number of books on Quantum Mechanics, including
a standard textbook on the subject. In Quantum Physics - Illusion
or Reality? he explores the issue of observation and the role of
consciousness in measurement. He equates 'consciousness' to alternatively
a person's 'mind' or 'self' or 'soul', which nicely illustrates the essential
fuzziness of the word as used in quantum and psi studies. He extensively
describes Popper & Eccles book The Self And Its Brain (1977)
which is a highly dualist affair (see above) in which consciousness is
taken to be the only reality, eventually rejecting such a 'subjectivist'
view in favour of a more naturalistic model, pointing out that, the closer
we get to understanding the workings of consciousness at a neural level,
the more 'doubtful' become subjectivist theories of the primacy of consciousness
in the creation of reality. He also considers whether psi phenomena contradict
the established basis of quantum mechanics, concluding that if for instance
pk is real, then it operates on principles that are as much outside quantum
mechanics as they are outside classical mechanics.
Ph.D., b 28 June 1942, is a former research fellow of the Royal Society
and former director of studies in biochemistry and cell biology at Clare
College, Cambridge. He has written 80 peer-reviewed papers and ten books,
but is best known for his theory of 'morphic resonance' which in many
ways is close to the idea of the collective unconscious as espoused by
Jung, but is much more specific, including a morphogenetic mechanism which
applies some sort of memory of past phylogeny to the evolution of new
forms but also to the development of current individuals, not limited
to humans, of course. This can be called 'vitalism', see Driesch (below).
Sheldrake's 'field' is species-specific, but permits cross-species links
(see his book 'Dogs Who Know When Their Owners Are Coming
Home'). His theory includes such ideas as the existence of
social bonds via the morphic field in and between people and animals,
collective memory, morphic fields of ant colonies and other animal groups,
and the 'collective minds' of flocks and herds. He supposes that morphic
fields must have originated among the earliest social animals.
J Squires, (1933 - 1996), physicist, was a Professor at the Department
of Mathematical Sciences, University of Durham. He wrote extensively on
the nature of consciousness in relation to quantum phenomena, starting
from the (Copenhagen consensus) proposition that observation changes quantum
states, so that consciousness has to stand outside physical reality. His
book The Mystery Of The Quantum World (see reference) contains
scientific arguments for God's existence based on quantum mechanics (or
more exactly, two technical ways in which God could play a role in quantum
mechanics). In effect he removes indeterminacy and replaces it with God;
Einstein would have liked it.
is an early article by him.
Stapp, b 1928 and now retired, remains a scientific associate of the
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Using a mathematical theory of
quantum mechanics developed by John von Neumann (1903 - 1957) he proposed
a theory according to which consciousness would be an immanent property
of the brain, although not going as far as Hameroff and Penrose. For Stapp,
it is the ion channels connecting neurons that are the site of quantum
effects due to their extremely small size, which causes indeterminacy.
It is then consciousness (the mind) that causes quantum collapse by choosing
one state rather than another; but because this is an ongoing process,
coherence is continually re-established.
Harris Walker (1935 – 2006), was an American physicist. In 2000
Walker published The Physics of Consciousness, The Quantum Mind and
the Meaning of Life, which attempts to describe how quantum mechanical
processes may be responsible for the creation of human consciousness,
arguing that quantum tunnelling has a vital role in synaptic transmission,
and that the indeterminacy that is inevitably a part of that is resolved
by 'conscious' choices made by the mind among the elements of a quantum
superposition. There is no real evidence to support this theory, and later
neurological research has tended to undermine the likelihood of such a
mechanism. The consequences of Walker's theory would seem to be that the
universe consisted of one enormous quantum superposition until Man came
along to 'observe' it and cause it to collapse into physical reality.
In the end it's just another case of replacing indeterminacy with God.
Archibald Wheeler (1911 – 2008), an American physicist who worked
on relativity as a collaborator of Einstein, and on nuclear fission, quantum
mechanics and gravitation. He was a Professor at Princeton for much of
his career. He developed a unified theory of space-time including gravity,
called geometrodynamics, but abandoned it when discoveries in particle
physics contradicted it. He coined the term 'black hole' and used 'it
from bit' as a motto:
the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom –
a very deep bottom, in most instances – an immaterial source and
explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis
from the posing of yes/no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked
responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic
in origin and that this is a participatory universe."
that reality is created by observers in the universe, we being participators
in the process. Another one who thought that consciousness came first.
Paul Wigner, 1902-1995, Visiting Professor at Princeton, Physics Nobel
Prizewinner in 1963, contributed mathematical foundations to many aspects
of quantum theory. Wigner was another believer in the causal effect of
'When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic
phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of
consciousness came to the fore again: it was not possible to formulate
the laws of quantum mechanics without reference to the consciousness.
All that quantum mechanics purports to provide are probability connections
between subsequent impressions (also called "apperceptions")
of the consciousness, and even though the dividing line between the
observer, whose consciousness is being affected, and the observed physical
object can be shifted towards the one or the other to a considerable
degree, it cannot be eliminated. It may be premature to believe that
the present philosophy of quantum mechanics will remain a permanent
feature of future physical theories; it will remain remarkable, in whatever
way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external
world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is
an ultimate reality.'
Wigner claimed that
a quantum measurement requires a conscious observer, without which nothing
ever happens in the universe, who has come to be called 'Wigner's Friend'
and occupies a place similar to the observer of Schrodinger's Cat.
Other names will be
added to this list as time goes by, but some common themes emerge from
the work of these people, many or most of them being eminent researchers
in their own disciplines, so that they have to be taken seriously:
- There is some type
of 'field' which operates according to principles that are not known
to modern science, even allowing for the existence of quantum phenomena,
and permits communication by an unknown mechanism of informational content
to and between animals (which includes us), some of which we loosely
- This 'field' shares
with quantum phenomena such characteristics as non-locality, i.e. it
operates outside the known dimensions of space and time. Although that
is not to say that the fields associated with psi and quantum mechanics
are identical. None of our listed heroes is brave enough to make that
assertion, although other researchers have done so.
(but please remember our strictures laid out above concerning the use
of this word) is involved in the basis of physical reality in the sense
that in order to 'collapse' the quantum superposition of particles they
have to be 'observed' by some aspect of mind, which researchers are
apt to label 'consciousness'.
The problem with the
requirement for an active principle of mind to exist as a precondition
for objective reality (which we may label as a 'dualist' position) is
evidently that, while consciousness (to continue to misuse the word) clearly
exists in humans, and possibly in some other higher mammals, that only
takes us back some tens of millions of years, forcing us to accept that
an amoeba, and eventually a rock, is as capable of 'observing' an atomic
particle as you and I. In reality, while nuclear physicists may be able
to observe and collapse a superposition, this author has never done so,
and you, the reader of these words, have probably never done so either.
Only a tiny fraction of humanity has ever sat in front of an electron
scanning microscope, and only a vanishingly small fraction of particles
have ever been 'observed' by nuclear physicists. So the 'consciousness'
brigade would have us believe that the overwhelming portion of the universe
does not exist and never has done, except as a series of fleeting superpositions.
You may believe that if you want to, but this author doesn't! So there
is something wrong with the current set of beliefs and theories which
incorporate 'observation' as a necessary part of objective reality, and
later in this book we will attempt to find out what it is.
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