Ecological Intelligence: Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature - Ian McCallum (2008)
Part I. REMEMBERING WHEREWE HAVE COME FROM
Chapter 3. THE WAKE-UP CALLS
FEW WILL ARGUE THAT THIS PAST MILLENNIUM HAS BEEN WITNESS TO some of the most dramatic changes to the way human beings have come to see themselves in their relationship to the world. The catalyst in this process has been the questioning or reflective nature of human consciousness itself, but more especially the thinking of certain rare and courageous individuals to whom we are greatly indebted. They are responsible for what I believe to be the five major wake-up calls of the past five hundred years (one cosmic minute).
The first wake-up call, triggered by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), promulgated the now accepted theory that the Earth and the planets rotate around the sun—not the other way round. In short, he was announcing the news that the Earth had lost its fancied position as the center of the universe. This must have caused great philosophical discomfort to many, particularly the church, who saw the Earth and humans as central to God’s universe. Years later, in an astonishing act of retribution against anyone challenging its cosmology, the church came down hard on Copernicus’s successor, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), when he excitedly announced the discovery of the moons of Jupiter. At the time, the principals of the Holy Church of Rome, instead of leaping at the opportunity to peep through Galileo’s telescope, refused to do so, threatening to excommunicate the embattled astronomer if he did not refute his claim. Additional death threats forced Galileo to conclude that his cause was not worth dying for, whereupon he disclaimed his newfound discovery.
Let us not judge Galileo too harshly, for we might have done the same. We are old hands at denying the truth of ourselves, of turning our heads, of refusing to turn the telescope inward. We are all wary of the possibility of being shown up, of discovering that our perceptions have been wrong, or that our lives might have been more fulfilled if we had only been a little more daring.
Those early giants of mathematics and astronomy have been more than vindicated, and we are now privy to haunting, yet magnificent, images from deep space, from time and distances that have too many naughts, too many powers of ten for our minds to assimilate. The images remind us of how small we are, how distant and how little we really know. And yet, in spite of the fact that our Earth does circle the sun and beyond that, the deep center of our galaxy, we don’t quite believe it, do we? Ironically, five hundred years on, our speech confirms that Copernicus, at a subtle level, has not been fully acknowledged. We still speak of sunrises and sunsets, unconsciously reinforcing the notion that the sun revolves around us. In the self-centered world of the human animal, we have great difficulty in speaking about the Earth rising into the night—how beautiful—or of our planet dipping sharply into the morning, saluting the sun. This is poetic speech, but it is important. It is part of the language of ecological intelligence, which is at once factual, at once poetic. To see the horizon tilting upward and away from the sun is an entirely different experience to watching the sun going down. Try it.
The second wake-up call was a little louder than the first. This was the voice of English physicist Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a mind that gave us the law of gravity as well as the classical laws of motion.Newton not only put the Earth in its place, but the planets, and the sun, too, in theirs, for they are subject to the same laws. Thanks to Newton, the universe was something that we could begin to measure—it had weight, it was gravid…hence the word gravity, from the Latin gravidus, “to be laden, heavy”…pregnant. For many, it was hardly a surprise that an apple would fall on one’s head if one sat directly beneath it long enough, or that a body, at rest, could be propelled by a force acting upon it. Who didn’t know, or at least suspect, that for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction? On the playful side, who of us in our youth has not accelerated a reluctant playmate into a swimming pool, knowing sooner, rather than later, a more than equal and opposite reaction was in the cards?
Realizing the pregnant significance of Newton’s laws, there were those who saw beyond the banality of playground physics. They knew deep down that to understand them was to have our lives changed forever. History, in this regard, has already spoken. Without Newton’s signature, there might not have been space travel, aircraft, industrial engineering, or technology in the way we know it today. And yet technology, for all its blessings, has come at a price—the industrial revolution and with it the growth of cities and increased urbanization has distanced us from our relationship with the land, the rivers, and the sea. This was not Newton’s fault, and for everything that this man’s intellect unveiled, we need to honor him. His legacy, as well as that of Copernicus, has had an indelible impact on modern thought.
The third wake-up call was like a thunderclap. It was the voice of nineteenth-century British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Compared with the largely impersonal discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, Darwin’s ideas hit a lot closer to home. Most people are profoundly indifferent to whether it is the Earth or the sun that revolves around the other, and few of us would lose sleep because we didn’t understand the aerodynamics of a space rocket. But it is impossible to be indifferent to Darwin. He struck a deep subjective chord, and the ongoing resistance to his ideas tells us that the chord is both raw and deep.
Intrinsic to Darwin’s message is the notion that evolution is something tangible, something meaningful, and that we are socially and biologically closer to our animal companions than we would like to think. The tracks along the path of the unfolding mammalian genome are undoubtedly those of Darwin. The lion is more than 90 percent human, and so is the spotted hyena. The African elephant also has well over 90 percent of the human gene sequence. But that is not all. Those pesky fruit flies of the family Drosophila that buzz around our baskets of overripe fruit are 42 percent human, while the chimpanzee, our closest primate cousin, shares more than 98 percent of our blueprint. Without discounting the obvious as well as the sometimes subtle differences in genetic expression, how much of the genome of the hyena and the chimpanzee do we have in us?
The animals, in science, as we are discovering, and in poetry as it always has been, are in our blood. The landscape is in our skin. We, too, gnash and gnaw; we sound our alarm calls and our cries of territory, sexuality, and discovery. We, too, are known for our aggression, for gangrelated violence, for organized warfare and, like the Polygerus ants in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona, for slavery. We, too, are defined by our territorial tiffs, known for our experience of fear, frustration, and rage and by the way we are warmed by that powerful yet indescribable phenomenon called belonging—what the human animal sometimes calls soul. The sense of belonging affects creatures from antelopes to dogs, birds, elephants, and primates, and we are not the only creatures who die from a loss of it.
Who spins around whom in this dance? In these selected lines from his astounding poem “Wilderness,” written in 1918, the poet Carl Sandburg celebrates his animal nature—long before the unraveling of the human genome.
There is a wolf in me…fangs pointed for tearing gashes…a red tongue for raw meat…and the hot lapping of
blood—I keep the wolf because the wilderness gave it
to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fox in me…a silvery-gray…fox…I sniff and guess …I pick things out of the wind and air…
I circle and loop and double cross.
There is a hog in me…a snout and a belly…a machinery for eating and grunting…a machinery for sleeping satisfied
in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fish in me…I know I come from salt-blue-water-gates…
I scurried with shoals of herrings…I blew water
spouts with porpoises…before land was…before the
water went down…before Noah…before the first chapter
There is a baboon in me…hairy under the arm pits
…ready to sing and give milk…waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird
…and I got them from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony
head, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—
And I got something else : it is a manchild heart, a woman-
child heart: it is a father and mother
And lover: it comes from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-
Knows-Where—for I am the
Keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and I kill and I work:
I am a pal of the world: I come from the wilderness.
From what depths did this poem come, I wonder, if not from a deep sensing of the biopsychological history of the human animal? At the level of the gene, then, more particularly in the sequencing of the amino acids that bind the chromosomes within the gene, every living thing speaks the same language. From flies and foxes to humans, all the creatures of the Earth and the sea say one thing—we are relatives. This, to me, is poetry. Darwin was right.
We have all had the experience of sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night, the result of a sudden yet delayed realization of the significance of what someone has said, written, or done. It is as if, prior to the sudden realization, we were either resistant to or unable to grasp what that person was trying to convey. Such was and remains the significance of the voice and the written work of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), a man whose double-barreled theories of relativity represent the fourth great wake-up call of the past half millennium.
In 1905, with the publication of his special theory and eleven years later, of his general theory of relativity, Einstein turned Newton’s laws of a three-dimensional universe inside out. With his famous special theory equation E=mc2, he established that mass and energy are equivalent and that they can be transformed into each other. He also predicted that under certain circumstances time will slow down, for example as one approximates the speed of light. In this theory, he concluded that there are “hidden invariables” in the ordering of the universe. It was an admission that certain occurrences in physics could not be predicted with the solid certainty of traditional cause-and-effect thinking.Every measurement, he said, depends on one’s frame of reference—an observation not without profound personal as well as sociocultural significance. To a three-dimensional intelligence, this is absurd. What did this mean? In short, our commonsense Newtonian view of time as an ordered sequence of moments following one upon the other, the same for everyone, had been turned on its head. Newton believed that time anywhere, anyhow, was a phenomenon well defined. In his own words, time was “absolute, true and mathematical, of itself and from its own nature, without relation to anything external, remains similar and immovable…” Newton said the same about our understanding of space: “Absolute, in its own nature…similar, and immovable…”
Nearly two hundred years after Newton, following a total eclipse of the sun on May 29, 1919, there was an excited yet humble refutation of Newton’s absolutes. In one of the most famous scientific observations of this past century, astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington was able, as predicted by Einstein, to show that light, as it travels close to the sun on its way from a star to the Earth, is deflected by the gravitational pull of the sun. Normally, because of the sun’s brilliance, we cannot see the stars in daytime, but if we could, the deflection of their light rays, according to Einstein, would make them appear in different positions from those we would expect them to occupy. At that time, the only way to prove his theory was to measure the position of stars close to the sun during a total eclipse and to compare it with where they were predicted to be. Einstein was right—these stars, their light deviated by the sun, were not where they were supposed to be.
Unlike Newton, who had shown the equations that explained gravity, Einstein, when he pointed out that huge masses or forces like the sun actually warp the space and light near them, was able to show how gravity worked. But there was more. He showed that time would be warped also. Contrary to our experience of time as a phenomenon or dimension in its own right, independent of space and the laws of motion, Einstein linked the three dimensions of space (height, width, and depth) to the dimension of time, describing it as a fourth dimension—spacetime. In a four-dimensional world, he said, space, time, and mass are interdependent. He put it another way:
If you will not take the answer too seriously, and consider it only as a kind of joke, then I will explain it as follows. It was formerly believed that if all material things disappeared out of the universe, time and space would be left. According to the relativity theory, however, time and space disappear together with the things.
It is practically impossible to wrap our minds around such a notion, but Einstein had the courage to think the impossible. By predicting observable effects that, as far as we are aware, no one had ever dreamt of before, he bravely put his reputation on the line. It is crucial that we do not underestimate the boldness of his imagination, for it was truly poetic.
Time, then, is not what we think it is. According to our conventional view, only the present is real or special, but when viewed from this other, objective dimension, the past, the present, and the future are equally real and present, says theoretical physicist Paul Davis. In other words, time does not flow and not only is our notion of yesterday, today, and tomorrow an illusion, but there is also no such thing as the present moment either. He points out that the arrow of time might indicate the future, but this does not imply that the arrow is moving toward the future any more than a compass needle pointing north indicates that the compass is moving north. Instead, as difficult as it might be for us to grasp, “all of eternity is laid out in a four-dimensional block or field, composed of time and the three spatial dimensions” says Davis. This is a reminder of the block universe that Greek philosopher and mathematician Parmenides had intuited nearly three thousand years earlier. Does this mean we must throw away our clocks? The answer is no. We sense time psychologically. Yes, it is likely, under certain conditions, that time might lose its separate identity from space, but it is important to recognize that this does not mean that time is identical to the three dimensions of space, says Davis. Time and space enter into daily experience and physical theory in distinct and measurable ways. This distinction, he says, is important in the everyday world of the human animal, for it underpins the key notions of cause and effect, preventing them from being hopelessly jumbled.
At the beginning of the 1920s, writes Paul Johnson in The History of the Modern World, “the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism”—the notion that anything goes. No one was more distressed than Einstein by this public misapprehension. He was not a practicing Jew, but he acknowledged a God, believing passionately in absolute standards of right and wrong. He also believed that Nature was teleological or purposive. “God does not play dice with the universe,” was his famous response to his friend Neils Bohr when the latter questioned him about the seeming randomness of cosmic events.
In modern science, randomness versus purpose in Nature is hotly debated. Both sides of the argument have merit. “The manifestations of life, its expressions, its forms, are so diverse that they must contain a large element of the accidental,” wrote distinguished scientist and biologist Jacob Bronowski in his book The Ascent of Man, “… and yet the nature of life is so uniform that it must be constrained by many necessities.” Who can argue the seeming randomness of an asteroid collision with the Earth, and yet who can deny at least a hint of purpose in the ongoing cycles of life and death and the seasons of every living thing? Who knows, Nature might indeed have a purpose, but it is certainly not in accordance with what the human animal would like it to be.
If Nature does have a purpose then we have to accept that we are a part of it. If not, then it is likely that we will give it one. It is part of the psychological integrity and survival of our peculiar species. For example, why is it that whenever there is a call to assist in the preservation and conservation of an endangered species, men and women rally to this call? If it is the purpose of Nature for animals to go extinct, then why not let the animals go extinct? Why not let the wilderness vanish? Because there is something in the human psyche that says no. It would seem that there is something in us that acknowledges the purpose of a whale, an elephant, or a butterfly. But what purpose? At a lecture at the University of Cape Town in 1982, author Laurens vander Post answered this question pointedly. Referring to the psychological integrity of the human being, he said, “The conservation of animals and plants is more important to human beings than we are to them. These forms of life are vital for our survival.”
Roderick Frazer Nash, a former professor of history and environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, framed it differently during a lecture on the philosophy of wilderness in 1987. He invited listeners to think about the values of wilderness (which in the same lecture he had previously outlined factually) in terms of an analogy with a woman who asks, “Why do you love me?”
Try telling her that you worship her, that you cherish the life you have lived together, that she is necessary for your mental welfare, that her presence in your life makes you different, that in her own special way she is beautiful, that she inspires you to be creative, and that she challenges you and offers you an alternative to the way most other women are in the world.
Pushing the envelope of human consciousness does not come with-out a price and neither did the formula E=mc2. That same equation, filled with mathematical and poetic insight, was pregnant with a mushroom-shaped shadow that was to become the blueprint for the atomic bomb and nuclear war—grave and gravid stuff. It is no wonder that Einstein, at the end of his life, said that there were times when he wished he had been a simple watchmaker. However, in support of a great man, let us look again at that equation.
E=mc2 was in fact a multiple pregnancy, incubating the exciting field of quantum theory, a system of mechanics based on the wave-particle duality of matter and radiation. The duality phenomenon is also known as the observer effect. In other words, light can be seen to travel in waves or particles, depending on the intention of the observer. The theory introduces us to the concept of an invisible field to explain the astonishing, nonclassical behavior of subatomic particles. As if connected or supported in a field of interaction, the behavior of these particles is such that there seems to be no usual cause-and-effect relationship between them. In other words, their influence, one upon the other, is instantaneous. Absurd? Read on…
Another characteristic of the behavior of subatomic particles is that they manifest in quantum leaps. This is another way of saying that there is no apparent movement of the particle from point A to point B.In what could be a hint of what the poets refer to as a web of life, a particle therefore manifests or unveils itself at point B as if it had always been there. Then there is the observer effect, a phenomenon reminding us that the very act of observing particles causes them to manifest. The act of observation creates the spacetime event, telling us that every subatomic particle exists firstly in a virtual state, the actual state manifesting itself in accordance with the intention of the observer.
Standing on the shoulders of Einstein, German physicist Werner Heisenberg proposed his uncertainty principle, a theory informing us that we can know the motion or velocity of an electron and we can know its position, but we cannot know both at the same time. This principle predicts that the harder one tries to scrutinize the movements of a subatomic particle, the more elusive it becomes. The mere act of focusing on the particle is enough to disturb it. This conclusion was based on the understanding that waves of light could not be emitted at an arbitrary rate but only in “packets” called quanta, and that each quantum had a certain amount of energy that was greater the higher the frequency of the waves. Stephen Hawking provides one of the most accessible explanations of the uncertainty principle in his classic, A Brief History of Time.
In order to predict the future position and velocity of a particle, one has to be able to measure its present position and velocity accurately. The obvious way to do this is to shine light on the particle. Some of the waves of light will be scattered by the particle and this will indicate its position. However, one will not be able to determine the position of the particle more accurately than the distances between the wave crests of light, so one needs to use light of a short wavelength in order to measure the position of the particle precisely…[but] one cannot use an arbitrarily small amount of light; one has to use a quantum. This quantum will disturb the particle and change its velocity in a way that cannot be predicted. Moreover, the more accurately one measures the position, the shorter the wavelength of light that one needs and hence the higher the energy of a single quantum. So the velocity of the particle will be disturbed by a larger amount. In other words, the more accurately you try to measure the position of the particle, the less accurately you can measure its speed, and vice versa…Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is a fundamental, inescapable property of the world.
Ultimately it is impossible to know exactly how the constituents of matter are behaving. “As soon as I say: IT IS RE AL, it vanishes,” said Octavio Paz when asked to define the essence of poetry. And then there is Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who raised a glass of wine to toast his wife: “I know you so well,” he said, “that I haven’t a clue who you are.” The physicist and the poet…I wonder which is which…who spins around whom? Such is the language of poetry and of physics.
The “hidden invariables” of relativity and quantum theory preceded the “hidden order” of what is known in physics today as chaos theory, a fascinating discovery of the nature of turbulence, irregularity, and randomness in our lives. Invariably defined as an absence of order, we do not sit easily with the notion of chaos. However, it now appears that chaos, when looked at differently, can be seen to have its own dynamic, its own order, and that there are special patterns of regularity in what we perceive as being irregular or random. It would appear that strange laws of chaos exist behind most of the things we consider remarkable about our world—the human heartbeat, human thought, storms, the structures of galaxies, the creation of a poem, cloud build-up, traffic congestion, the impact of elephants on woodlands, the rise and fall of wild-dog populations, the spread of a forest fire, a winding coastline, and even the origins and evolution of life itself.
Depending on the intensity of one’s focus, what might appear as an orderly situation at one level of magnification is turbulent, irregular, or chaotic at another. Psychologically, any prolonged focus on any one thing, be it a person, a fantasy or a situation, is a good definition of a neurosis, a reminder that we have to learn how to vary the focus if we are to see the bigger picture in our situations. “Do no thing in excess,” says Apollo. Vary your focus every now and then. Do some scanning for a change.
Chaos theory says yes and no. It reminds us that whatever interpretation we make about our perceptions of the world we can be sure that there is information missing. It tells us that the truths we seek can never be fully grasped. It reminds us also of the transformational significance of the missing information, of the dormant treasures within it—when we are open to it. It is clear to me that pre-Christianera Greek writer Xenophanes, in this two thousand-year-old untitled poem translated by Karl Popper, understood the significance of missing information and of uncertainty…
The gods did not reveal, from the beginning,
All things to us, but in the course of time
Through seeking we may learn and know things better.
But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor shall he know it, neither of the gods
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
For if by chance he were to utter
The final truth, he would himself not know it…
Because quantum theory appeals to that which is deeply intuitive in us, Einstein initiated a revolution that would challenge the way we think about ourselves and about our world. It was an invitation to think differently about space, time, and uncertainty. And yet most of us find this extremely difficult. Why? Because it is inconvenient, because we’ve gotten used to living in an egooriented, three-dimensional world where the past is behind us, to be forgotten, and where the future is out of our hands. For many, the only time that interests us is now. The only space of concern is the one we occupy. Usually, it doesn’t matter what happens in the rest of the world or to the environment, unless or until it affects us directly. Sadly, this attitude has been central to the perpetuating causes of our current environmental crises. It is nothing short of what can be described as a lethal environmental lethargy. It is easy to plead ignorance with regard to what we are doing to the land, the sky, and the seas, but it does not make us innocent. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance has been the catalyst in practically every environmental mishap of this past century.
It is time to take Nature seriously—to develop a sensitivity not only to our macrocosmic world of cause and effect, but to other realities also, to the world of the small, where uncertainty and the observer effect is taken personally. It is time to stop squirming away from the uncomfortable realization that we live in two worlds: a three-dimensional world of measured meaning and another, a curving, four-dimensional world of uncertainty. Absurd? The answer is no. It is no more absurd than the proven theory that light possesses both the qualities of waves and particles and that it can be any one of two things at the same time.
The thorns of the ziziphus remind us that we live a dual existence. The DNA molecule itself, the essence of biological life, comes as a double helix. Ours is a world of process, of paradox, a dual world of macro and micro space, of signs and symbols, of clockwork reality and of another, equally important reality, where time and causality have a different meaning. If we are genuine about rediscovering ourselves in Nature, then there is only one thing to do. We have to commit ourselves to the process. We have to hold the tension that comes with a dual existence, no matter what. If this sounds true, then “Say yes quickly!” urges the poet Rumi. “Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about.”
Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about? If this rings true then it is likely that you are interested in that other vast field of uncertainty—depth psychology.
Enter Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Jung (1875-1961), two courageous twentieth-century pioneers of depth psychology, both of them drawn to clinical medicine and healing, both of them turning the telescope inward in their attempts to comprehend the dynamics of human nature. Between them, what they saw and how they articulated it serves as the fifth great wake-up call of the past six hundred years. It was a dual contribution, one from a mentor and the other from a disciple who would inevitably go his own way. Between them, they tried to make sense of another space, another great wilderness—the human psyche.
Freud, who coined the term psychoanalysis, gave us the words ego, superego, and id to describe his tripartite division of the human personality. The id, a word and suffix first used by German biologist G. Weismann in 1893 to describe a unit of germplasm, was borrowed by Freud to describe the uncultured, instinctual impulses of human behavior. He was referring to our brain stem-oriented animal nature. He described the ego as that part of the human psyche that corresponds most closely to one’s autobiographical self—a controlling self that holds back the impulsiveness of the id in an effort to delay grati-fication until it can be found or expressed in socially approved ways. This was another way of describing the dialogue, or tension, between the inhibitory frontal lobe and the brain stem demands for immediate gratification. The superego, he said, was that part of the personality that corresponds to the notion of conscience, the part that controls and censors one’s behavior through learned moral and social values. The pull of the superego is much more toward one’s culture and conventional wisdom than to one’s biology. Freud was well aware of this, for he recognized in this tension the seeds of human neuroses. He proposed that the neuroses of civilized men and women resulted from the alienation of our egos (including the superego) from our primal, animal drives. In other words, we ignore our biological origins at great cost to our mental health. He was describing the consequences of the Human-Nature split.
In his analysis of human behavior, however, Freud went deeper than the ego. Putting his credibility at stake, he became the recognized spokesperson for that potentially fathomable realm of the human psyche—the unconscious. He saw it as the home of hidden agendas, the domain of repressed personal memories, motivations, and wishes, the reservoir from which our dreams and fantasies originate, as well as the source of what came to be known as Freudian slips. These are those memorable words or intentions that we deliberately try to suppress but that, in certain social settings, we inexplicably and embarrassingly let slip or act out.
In support of what he believed was the universality of the role of the unconscious mind in human behavior, Freud turned to mythology.His famous analysis of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex led the way to a plausible yet controversial theory of human psychosexual development. Drawing on an aspect of the famous Greek myth in which the hero unwittingly murders his father and marries his mother, he coined the now famous Oedipus complex to describe the unconscious sexual attachment of infants to parents of the opposite sex. He dared to propose that all infants relive the theme of this ancient myth in that they subconsciously wish for the murder or death of the parent/competitor of the same sex in order to have the other all to themselves. It is easy, steeped as we are in the taboos of society, more especially the incest taboo (the title of one of Freud’s books), to dismiss his incestuous/murderous theory as distasteful and nonsensical. However, when we care to think about it, it is not that farfetched. It is only in rare exceptions that children do not want their mothers—their breasts, their approval, their security, and so on—all to themselves. It is at the root of sibling rivalry and of the way that children can, for their own benefit, play one parent off against the other. It is primal behavior, which, properly parented, is nothing to be ashamed of.
While Freud and Jung, as we shall see, differed in their interpretation of the depths and the function of the unconscious, both men understood dreams to be the language of this mostly hidden domain. Both of them treated our strange nocturnal images seriously, believing that they were invaluable as pointers to the uncovering of repressed memories, wishes, and conflicts when assessing the mental status of their patients. For both men, to know thyself was impossible without an understanding of one’s dreams.
In his description of the causes of human neuroses, Freud sometimes came across as pessimistic, a genius embroiled with theories of death wishes, of deepseated envy and anger in young males with regard to their fathers, and of unexpressed sexual frustration in women. However, to put this into perspective, we need to remember the period in which he was living. It was called, ironically, the Victorian era, a patriarchal period of intense suppression of the feminine, a time when women were disenfranchised, when “decent” ladies covered them-selves from chin to foot, and when feminine protest was dismissed as “hysterical,” from the Greek hysterikos—the wandering womb. A brave, brilliant, and lonely man, Freud pushed the envelope of self-awareness in a way that no one before him had dared to do. As with Darwin, it is impossible to be indifferent to Freud, and although his theories remain contentious, his influence in modern psychology is indelible.
Carl Jung introduced the collective unconscious, archetypes, projections, individuation, and the concept of the human shadow into our psychological vocabulary. Like Freud, Jung was and remains contentious for similar reasons. Pioneers of the science of subjectivity, unafraid to examine the dark side of human nature, what they had to say about the human psyche was very new and it wasn’t particularly pleasant. They both had a huge respect for the symbolic as well as the emotional world of humans. To me, they differed in another way.
If Freud was revolutionary, Jung was evolutionary, and it is in this light that I believe the full significance of the latter’s contribution to modern thinking is yet to be acknowledged. Extending Freud’s notion of the individual psyche comprising the ego and an unconscious domain that was strictly personal, i.e., a reservoir of repressed personal memories, Jung suggested that the unconscious mind, in addition to the personal unconscious, included a vast collective dimension as well. He called it the collective unconscious. It was a tacit acknowledgment of the evolution of consciousness, more especially the more-than-two-million-year psychological history of our species. Irrespective of creed or culture, he believed the collective unconscious to be the domain of survival-oriented memories, myths, motifs, and patterns of behavior common to all humans. Jung called these ancient survival patterns the archetypes. To understand the significance of these survival patterns is to have a better understanding of human nature. It is to understand why human myths, fairy tales, and legends are so important to us. It is to have a better understanding of the forces behind vocation and the human search for meaning.
From archetypos, “first-molded” or “original,” the archetypes are the psychological equivalents of our biological drives or instincts. Genetically primed, they are a product of the collective history of human existence, of language, memories, and the human ability to adapt. Jung recognized them in our uniquely varying but patterned responses to situations of conflict, danger, distress, nurturance, disorder, need, falling in love, competition, and so on. I see them always emotionally charged, linked to at least seven well-established basic emotional command systems in the limbic part of our brains. Elegantly described by neurobiologist Jaak Panksepp, these systems are survival oriented, interdependent, complementary, compensatory, and they exist in every mammal. The situations that trigger them are therefore archetypal. Panksepp divided these into systems of:
✵Seeking, involving the emotions associated with curiosity, interest, expectations, and the possibility of reward
✵Pleasurelust and the associated emotions activated by achieving what has been sought
✵Angerrage and the range of emotions triggered by the frustration of failed gratification
✵Fear-anxiety and the emotions associated with having to deal with the frustration
✵Panic-distress and the range of emotions associated with loss, sorrow, separation
✵Care and the emotions surrounding protection and nurturance
✵Play and the emotions associated with rough-and-tumble, competition, and learning
Panksepp’s work is a reminder that the survival role of feelings and emotions in humans and other animals should not be underplayed or ignored for, as neuropsychologists Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull write, “we not only experience emotions, we express them.” Our emotionally charged perceptions make us want to “do something.” And we do so in many ways—fighting, fleeing, hiding, laughing, challenging, crying, blushing, and so forth. They add: “The perceptual aspect of emotion has a compulsive effect on us. We simply cannot lie back and feel our emotions.” Gripped by the impulse to respond, the historical archetypal pattern, be it of a hero, mother, father, savior, lover—as many archetypes as there are situations—is activated in the psyche of the doer. The spontaneous act of “doing something” is an archetypal act. From altruism to opportunism, they are reenactments of ancient motifs, themes, and patterns that are evolutionary and of profound survival significance. They cannot be called upon at will. Instead, because they arise from the felt experience of lived events in actual lives, they constellate spontaneously as the psychic expressions of instinctual processes. The archetypes give our biological drives a human face.
To honor the gods, then, is also to honor the archetypes. But that is our choice. We are not automatons. Learning is an important part of our survival as well and, as we know, in the process of becoming more aware of our emotional responses, it becomes less difficult to predict the situations in which they will be aroused. This means as we feel ourselves being drawn into a situation we can choose to modify our response. We can learn to say yes and no to the archetypes.
And so, what does the depth psychology of Freud and Jung, more especially Jung’s notion of a collective unconscious and the archetypes, have to do with ecological intelligence? Firstly, it is a reminder that the human psyche is a part of the evolutionary process. Secondly, it adds insight to the importance of psychological thinking—of developing a greater awareness of how and why we think and behave as we do and, more importantly, of allowing ourselves to be changed by that awareness. Thirdly, it introduces the notion of a collective consciousness and the implication that we exist in a “field” of information and influence, what I call a “mindfield.” Finally, if we are to take the admonition “know thyself” to heart, it will help us to understand a little better two crucial archetypes of Jung’s analytical psychology—the self and the shadow.
Jung described the self with a capital S. He recognized it as a phenomenon historically older than the ego and out of which the ego evolved or developed. The Self is an archetype representing not only integration or movement toward wholeness and toward a personality that is unique, but also the organizing survival force of Nature in every individual. To me, this, more than the ego-self, is the self that Apollo in his admonition was urging us to know.
To know this self is a lifelong process—what Jung called the process of individuation. Marie-Louise Von Franz, an analyst and longtime colleague of Jung, described this process as “discovering what it means to be authentic, of discovering that which can only be given by the Self—one’s vocation and with it, one’s natural authority.” In this light, individuation also implies, in every individual, the possibility of an emerging ecological intelligence. Individuation means coming to know, little by little, that we are not the masters of our fate, but we can choose our attitude toward it. Dylan Thomas, for example, made his attitude clear in the famous lines of his poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And then there is Greek writer and poet Kazantzakis:
I am but a bow in your hand, Lord.
Do not leave me
For I will rot.
Do not bend me beyond my strength
For I will break
But bend me beyond my endurance
And let me break.
Individuation is ultimately a humbling process. As it is with insight, so it is with individuation—it is unlikely that we ever fully achieve it. It is as if, from time to time, we can touch it but we can never quite grasp it. In other words, we never become individuated. It is therefore not about perfection or about putting an end to personal suffering. Instead, it is a process of learning to see the world with both “eyes,” of waking up and of becoming conscious of the nature and the inevitability of suffering—a far better situation than to suffer blindly. Many of our great writers and poets knew this instinctively. An example is Albert Camus’ stunning analysis of the myth of Sisyphus (the man who challenged the gods and whose punishment was to push a rock up to the top of the hill only to watch it roll back down again). Camus reminds us that “to suffer one’s fate consciously is to be stronger than that rock.”
Individuation, then, is an individual matter but it cannot be done alone. We are, after all, a social species—we act, we interact, and we abstract. It is impossible outside of humanity, outside of work, and out-side of relationships and that includes our relationship with the Earth and every living thing. It is ongoing. And it is difficult, for one reason more than any other—it includes the enormous task of encountering and of trying to come to terms with the human shadow—the dark side of our nature. To explore this side of our nature and to take it seriously is to begin a process that will inevitably lead to a profound change in the organization of the way we think about ourselves, about social change, and, by no means least, about the human-animal interface.
How many times can a man turn his head,
pretending he just doesn’t see?
The devil made me do it.