Some Commentary on Psychological Ethics and the Plural Nature of Consciousness

alchemy

In contemporary society the reigning notion of psychology has increasingly come to be dominated by the physical sciences. Consequently discussion of ethics in psychology has largely been framed on the practice of medicine. The supposition underlying such a framing holds that events in the psyche are much like those in medicine, that is, due to specific causal factors and this furthermore suggests a definition of the psyche as a collection of effects. There are a number of good questions to ask with regard to this state of affairs the most important of which is whether or not the actual nature of the psyche is consonant, or even compatible, with the terms imposed upon it by a medical accounting of its nature. If the answer is yes, we may give some credence to the present state of affairs. But if the answer is no, even in part, a new notion of ethics must be introduced that would accord with the actual nature of the psyche.

One need not take the matters very far in order to realize that any approach to remediation of psychological suffering that proceeds from a fundamental misunderstanding, or mischaracterization, of the phenomenon with which it is concerned is likely, at some level, to yield problematic results. The question regarding the relationship between the nature of the physical sciences and that of the psyche is not a difficult one to answer. The psyche is not by nature an exclusively physical entity and its workings exceed those describable by the cause and effect relations that would characterize a purely physical universe. The phenomenology of the soul, therefore, cannot be adequately folded into either medicine or the physical sciences. It exists at a very different level of manifestation and pertains to an entirely different order of phenomena.

I feel the need to pause here. I have learned from experience that to suggest that science is not the only means through which one may define what is real is regarded as a sort of heresy. Doing so often invites dismissal and even scorn. This is an odd occurrence in psychology whose natural order includes, not only those measurable forms and patterns that would be the legitimate scope of scientific inquiry, but the entirety of those aspects that make up the context of immediate experience. It is also an odd appearance if the prevailing air currently adopted by psychology is scientific in nature as science purports dispassion as one of its core tenants. This latter feature reflects a shift in the situation of science within the cultural consciousness, one that alerts us to the fact that science has slipped it bounds and had become a belief system. However, if one removes from our understanding of the psyche, the existence of consciousness, of meaning, and any notion of the creative, which itself reflects the living aspect of psychic existence, one then has no need for the term psychology at all, for we are not longer speaking of a logos of the soul but simply an arrangement of matter. Herein lies the problem. The passion with which the contemporary mentality has molded science into a social belief system, and accorded it an exclusive status as the arbiter of what may be considered real, is something that actually represents an obstacle in even understanding psychologically, let alone establishing a genuine ethics of the soul. The exclusion of some criteria, and the overemphasis of others, leaves us with a distorted concept of the soul, not to mention the fact that the chosen means for authenticating reality runs counter means that would be appropriate for truly psychological understanding.

The supposition that the psyche is a scientifically definable entity is actually a logical absurdity, but it is an absurdity void of any awareness of its absurd nature. Once any approach to the soul is limited to that framed according to a single mode, it is impossible for awareness to come into contact with any dimension of experience that would challenge what has now become a fundamentalist stance. The underlying mode of consciousness underlying scientific inquiry is the rational mode. This mode has its specific function, an important one in the conscious life of the individual, as well as in society. In the development of technologies, and in acquiring information regarding the spatiotemporal order of things this mode functions in a vital manner. But set up as an arbiter of all reality it becomes an agent of dissociation, establishing schisms between the diversity of aspects of consciousness that would naturally inform one another. Understood from another viewpoint that is capable of engagement with a plurality of forms of consciousness, even contradictory ones, it represents a hegemonic state of affairs, absurdly so. One does not go too far in analogizing this situation to a kind of colonization of the psyche by a particular mythic structure, and this is the core of the problem. The rational mind has sought to take over the role of the mythic consciousness rather than assuming its rightful place as one mode within a plurality of modes of consciousness. It is likely that it is the assertion of its factual basis that leads rational consciousness into a denial of its unconsciously mythic role. Under such circumstances, one aspect, within a plurality, has managed to assert dominance over the rest of the possibilities.

Were it the case that rational consciousness actually represented the apogee of emerged forms of consciousness, one might make a positive argument for its hegemonic status, but alas, this is not  the case. It was not idle intent that moved Einstein to state, “The rational mind is a faithful servant and the intuitive mind a sacred gift. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” If we can speak of a hierarchy of forms, rational consciousness would naturally assume a lesser role. It is therefore ethically problematic to exclusively equate rational consciousness with psychological health, as some forms of psychotherapeutic approach tend to assert. Such an assertion merely points to the idea that conformity to an established societal myth is the measure of psychological health. If so, the ethical question then rests upon the ethics of the society in question. Here, there may be problems.

One of the problems that we face is the fact that any mode of understanding will tend to extend its structural principle so that it appears universal in scope. This process has a functional aspect in that it expands the depth of understanding along the lines of the particular mode in question and, in some cases, forms the binding structure of a society. This latter tendency, to act as a binder, is a mythic role. But at the same time this process gives rise to a shadow result as it narrows consciousness and begins to imprison consciousness within its own limited confines. This secondary result is pathological, not only in the individual, but also at the broader societal level. The rational mind organizes its vision of the cosmos according to its precepts, as a rational entity that will ultimately be reducible to rational terms. This assumption is, from a mythic standpoint, almost indistinct from the religious one that saw in the cosmos the workings of a divine will exclusively. These two modes never shared the same reference language because they arose out of very different functional roles within consciousness and pertain to very different orders of phenomena. Both have historically appeared purposeful in their respective realms of functioning. However, once established in the role of being at the top of a hierarchic paradigm and armed with an insistence on an unassailable claim to confer truth, what was at first purposive, became altogether malignant. The very same thing that once extended humanity’s embrace with life now begins to constrict it.

Part of the problem resides in science as a legitimate mode of engagement with phenomena within its own parameters, as opposed to science as a mythic structure. The dilemma that we are in is that one mode of consciousness has attempted to usurp the functional role of another. The notion that religion could replace the function of science is a fairly easy fallacy for most in contemporary society to perceive. But that science has assumed the mantle of myth is less clear to us. This is so because we are living within it. The myth of origins of rational consciousness is one in which all phenomena must conform to physical law. However such a notion excludes phenomena that are more than physical in nature.

As a binder that establishes a coherent bond between individuals within a society that is highly diverse and fragmented, any cement for that bond is likely to become that to which all parties may agree. The problem appears to arise when such a bond assumes the form of a unifying myth that cannot actually function effectively in a mythic manner. The rational mind understands myth as a false or provisional explanation. Myth is an inferior, or un-evolved attempt at fact. But myths primary role is not the establishment of fact, nor even a compensation for its lack, but rather it serves to cohere a diversity of experience into a form that renders the flow of existence both meaningful and relatable. This means that myth acts as a bridge between forms of consciousness, and the diversity of phenomena that correspond to them, rather than reducing them to a single mode of understanding. Myths are fictive constructs that reveal an objectivity that is of an entirely different order than that understood by the rational mind. The two run in almost diametrically opposed manner. Ratio means to divide, but myth is a fictive construct whose form embodies within it the cohered reality of lived experience. It unifies a natural diversity into a unified livable reality.

Each myth has something that is true as it base but no mythic structure known to humanity is able to account for the totality of possible truths. Rather, it creates an image of a totality out of the truth it touches and provides a means of maintaining the continuity of our relations with it. The role played by each myth differs, not only between civilizations, but also between individuals, each of whom carries within them a construct in image form that holds together the universe that they know. That such a myth is born out of conditions of privilege, privation, safety, or trauma, has little impact upon the fact that it retains its unique and fully objective nature, an objectivity linked to the context of a lived life and a unique truth, rather than in spite of it. It is a naturally arising form that exceeds description according to means lying outside of it and can only be understood through entering into its world. An approach to this world is entirely different than the one utilized in the sciences as we now conceive of them for its nature exceeds linearity and is itself a creative mutation rather than another iteration along the lines of a previously established order. Such an approach as is needed, while perhaps not necessarily religious in nature, requires something of a stance in consciousness that one did find in most religious constructs; the ability to not know, and to anticipate the existence, or appearance, of an order that exceeded ones ability to predict in advance. The loss of contact with this ability within a society, as well as within a discipline that purports to now define what it means to be a human being in relationship to the broader cosmos, is a problematic state of affairs at best.

What I have been suggesting is that an ethic associated with the psyche will have far more to do with the nature of myth and the fictive, rather than with fact, so long as our definition of myth includes an understanding of its functional nature. This includes the meaningful unification of highly diverse modes of awareness into a coherent system, one that will allow life to be lived fully in a psychological sense rather than merely a physical sense alone. The implications of this for the ethical approach of the psychologist, is that the psychologist must be prepared to enter into the mythic reality of the patient as opposed to standing at a distance safely ensconced in a societal one which reduces the mythic function to a state of unreality. This is so because the mythic reality of the patient, no matter how non-rational it may appear, has at its core a truth that is conveyed through its dramatizations and imagistic expressions, only some of which may conform to the realm of fact.

It is this above all that seems essential if we are to consider an ethics of the soul, for soul speaks to us not in parts, so much as through them. It is the ethical task of the observing consciousness of the psychologist to tend as carefully as possible to all of the diverse utterances of the soul without resorting to a scheme that would assert one dimension of the psyche arbitrarily over another. This dimension of ethical consideration demands a discipline that is actually far more exacting than is found in other fields, for it asks of the would be explorers of psychological reality that they participate in the very emergence of psychic reality at multiple levels of awareness even as they maintain the ability to observe and relate to it. In that sense the psychologist is not merely recording but also tending to that which is emerging and even becoming a part of that process. In that sense it is through the very being of the psychologist that psychological reality is realized in an internal sense rather than through means that are external to the context of experience. This is a demanding task but perhaps given the nature of the psyche, the most ethically pertinent approach that we may take.

In a future posting I hope to expand on some of the natures of the diverse aspects of consciousness and the stances within consciousness that may be called upon (at least potentially) for any actual encounter with the soul to take place if we are not to overtly reduce it. These include not simply those that frame the modern myth, but mythical, magical, and archaic ones as well, ones that modern thought presumed it had surpassed. These seemingly more “primitive” forms continue as functional aspects of humanities intimate bond with the cosmos and their influence may be everywhere seen so long as one is willing to look. In that regard a visiting of esoteric thought in particular is well worthwhile. The image from the visionary Jakob Bohme, (above) is one such example. Bohme’s cosmology suggested a transit to higher knowledge through a return to an intimate contact with nature, a paradigm that has a profound meaning to it and is applicable to daily analytic practice. It reflects the position that I am putting forth here; that the plurality of forms of consciousness each have functional value, and that this functional value persists in our makeup in a manner that contradicts the modernist myth of matter. Indeed I would suggest that the incapacity of consciousness to loan its own function to nature is likely the singularly most tragic pitfall of modern civilization. It is not fact alone that ties us to nature herself any more than science can define the psyche. A review of esoteric forms will be helpful in showing how highly invested such forms are in compensating what is actually lacking in the contemporary mentality. What they restore is a function within consciousness that permits a spanning of the realm of the archetype with that of the discrete life of the individual. Another way of saying this is that they connect the mundane world of material things with their eternal origins. In so doing they complete a circuit of reconnection and renewal.

AUTHOR

Mark Dean, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (PA) with nearly twenty years experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University since 1990. Previous work experience includes providing addiction treatment at the Charter Fairmount Institute, Clinical Case Management for the Adult Day Program, and serving as the Clinical Coordination of the Geriatric Outpatient Programs at Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment as well as his private practice. His volunteer work includes providing clinical intervention with violent and displaced youths in the Violence Postvention Program and at The Northern Home for Children in Philadelphia. Mr. Dean has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and has twice received the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Award. Prior to his graduate training as an art psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in several prominent private and public, national, and international collections. He can be reached at http://www.psychearts.org

 

 

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