Some Random Thoughts on Metaphysics, Consciousness and Carl Jung

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When I originally had the idea for this article, I thought it was going to be a light-hearted take on the heated debates about the nature of consciousness between materialists, dualists, panpsychists, and idealists. (I hope I haven’t left anyone out.) Some correspondence I’ve had on Medium since then has persuaded me to turn it into something a bit more serious.

Most of my articles have a spiritual theme of some kind. Over the past couple of months I’ve been focussing on the relationship between quantum physics and spirituality, and Carl Jung. During that time there has been a significant increase in the number of claps, clappers, highlights and complimentary remarks I’ve received. Also I’m gaining followers at a much quicker rate. I obviously appreciate this, and am very grateful; I assume that’s why everyone writes on Medium.

I also assume that some of those people will be reading this, and would therefore like to let you know that someone on Medium called Sender Spike disagrees with just about everything I say, that my metaphysical views are rubbish, that I understand nothing, especially about Jung, and so on. (For the sake of convenience in what follows I am going to call this person ‘he’. This is merely an assumption, based on months of correspondence, and I apologise in advance if that’s wrong.)

I should say in advance that Sender Spike is deeply knowledgeable about all these matters, so that I am not dismissing what he says, and what follows is not intended as a rejection. I merely want to clarify my position.

He seems especially critical that my metaphysical views are just about the same as those of Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society; he assumed that I had read her Secret Doctrine, which is not true. So I should make my position clear on that point. I am a member of the Theosophical Society, and have given talks for them, but that should not be taken to mean that I necessarily subscribe to all their teachings. The society imposes no beliefs on its members, who “come from all walks of life and belong to any philosophy or religion, or none”. In order to join I only had to accept their three founding objectives. (If interested in finding out more, click here.)

Personally I find it interesting that my own views, based on my experiences, should apparently be similar to those of someone who travelled so widely in the East, and studied the ancient religions in depth, devoting her life to that quest. To me that suggests that there might be something valuable in such views, although this does not seem to impress Sender Spike.

The written sources closest to my beliefs, as opposed to those derived directly from my personal experiences, are rather the books of Raynor C. Johnson, especially The Spiritual Path. It has to be admitted, however, that his metaphysics and general spiritual understanding are close to those of the Theosophical Society.

In terms of my own inner life experiences, these are closely in tune with the ideas of Carl Jung, him more than anyone else. I believe that his model of the individuation process — shadow, anima/animus, Self — is the most appropriate spiritual path for Westerners. I am also completely in tune with his approach to dream interpretation, the I Ching, his understanding of synchronicity, and his approach to mythology and symbolism. The writings of his followers — Marie-Louise von Franz, Esther Harding, Aniela Jaffé and others — are also deeply impressive.

I would say therefore that those who dismiss Jung out of hand, for example scientists and psychologists who claim that he is ‘mystical’, simply do not know enough. (I’m not saying that Sender Spike does this.) It is of course possible that Jung penetrates only so far, and that there are still deeper and higher realms beyond his ideas.

Turning now to my original intention, this article was inspired by one by Gerald R. Baron, entitled ‘The Five Theories of Consciousness’. This is a very important topic, with important implications for spirituality and philosophy, but what I’m going to do here should be considered light-hearted, only partly serious. For the purposes of my argument I’m going to amend his list of five theories, and use one of just four: materialists, dualists (which may be what Baron means by Mind First Thinkers), panpsychists, and idealists.

There is much heated debate about which one is true, and this has been going on for many hundreds of years, at least since the ancient Greeks. (I believe the reason the debate is heated is because at the heart of it, it becomes a debate about whether God might exist or not.) My light-hearted suggestion, purely for the purposes of this article, is that they might all be true. That might seem strange, but could be true if one adopts a purely pragmatic attitude.

If you are arguing with a materialist who believes that consciousness is a by-product of the brain, then it would make sense to adopt a dualist position, pointing out that science has absolutely no idea how the brain produces consciousness, and is never likely to do so.

If you are arguing with dualists, and they seem hard to shift, then it would make sense to adopt something along the lines of panpsychism, asking them to explain how the mind and brain interact, if their natures are so different.

If you are lucky enough to be arguing with someone who is already a panpsychist, then you can ask how it is possible that consciousness can be an attribute of matter, and ask them to provide any scientific evidence that might confirm this. (I believe that panpsychism is, on the whole, merely a logical deduction, taken primarily to avoid the problems associated with dualism.) One could then try to nudge them in the direction of what Baron calls Mind First, or even idealism. Idealism seems to me to be the only theory that avoids all the difficulties associated with the others. It is of course very difficult for the average person to understand how pure consciousness might be responsible for the creation of apparent matter.

If, however, you are talking to idealists, who think that the material world is an illusion, and therefore that what they do here is irrelevant - perhaps Western Buddhists who believe that they are meditating their way to liberation from the Wheel of Death and Rebirth - then they could be reminded that the fact that there is no such thing as substance, does not mean that what we do in the apparently material world is unimportant. There is a purpose and a plan to each incarnation, and we have to take the ‘material’ world seriously. This is not, of course, actually arguing for materialism.

How is this relevant to what I was saying before? It is possible to write and argue appropriately from different levels. There may be an ultimate truth, but there are also relative truths. Any argument about consciousness or metaphysics can appear true; it all depends on whom you are arguing with, and at what level you are arguing. Dualism can be considered the truth compared with materialism, even though it is only relatively true, and so on.

If there is any truth in what I write, then it may well be one of these relative truths. I’m merely working at the level at which I feel most comfortable, and at which I feel I have the most to say. That is primarily at the level of arguing against materialism/physicalism, with ideas that make most sense to people grounded in the material world, but deeply interested in what lies beyond. Sender Spike seems very keen to move me on to what he perceives to be a deeper understanding. I’m sure, although sometimes expressing himself rudely, that he means well, and may have a much deeper understanding of metaphysics than I do. I am, however, going to carry on writing about what makes sense to me.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com