Biblical Series VIII: The Phenomenology of the Divine by Dr. Jordan Peterson
Hello everyone. Thank you, again, for showing up. Tonight, we’re going to finish off the story of Noah and the story of the Tower of Babel—I don’t think that’ll take very long—and then we’re going to turn to the Abrahamic stories. They’re a very complex set of stories. They sit between the earliest stories in Genesis—that, I would say, end with the Tower of Babel—and the stories of Moses, which are extraordinarily well developed. There’s a whole sequence of Abrahamic stories—multiple stories, conjoined together. I found them very daunting. They are very difficult to understand. I’m going to stumble through them the best that I can. That’s probably the best way to think about this. They have a narrative content that’s quite strange.
I was reading a book while doing this, called The Disappearance of God, that I found quite helpful. The author of that book argues that God is very manifest at the beginning of the Old Testament, in terms of personal appearances, even. That proclivity fades away as the Old Testament develops. There’s a parallel development that’s, maybe, causally linked—I’m not exactly sure how to conceptualize it—to the stories about individuals becoming more and more well developed. It’s as if, as God fades away, so to speak, the individual becomes more and more manifest.
There’s a statement in the Old Testament—the location of which I don’t recall, but I’ll tell you about it in future lectures—where God tells whoever he’s speaking with that he’s going to disappear, let man go his own way, and see what happens. Not a complete disappearance, but maybe a transformation into something that modern people regard more as a psychological phenomena, rather than the objective entity that God seems to be in the beginning of the Biblical stories.
I’ve been wrestling with that a lot. The notion that God appears to Abraham multiple times…That’s not a concept that’s easy for modern people to grasp. For us—generally speaking, apart from, say, issues of faith—God isn’t something who makes himself personally manifested in our lives. He doesn’t appear to us. That’s, I suppose, why the question of belief is so paramount for modern people. I presume that, if God was in the habit of appearing to you, you likely wouldn’t have a problem with belief. It might be more complicated than that, but that’s how it seems to me.
And so, when we read stories about God making himself manifest, either to a nation, say, in the case of Israel, or to individuals, it’s not easy to understand why people would write stories like that, if they thought like we thought. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bible was written. From a biological perspective, it was really only yesterday—a couple of thousand years, four thousand years, or something like that. That’s not very long ago. From a biological perspective, it’s nothing. The first thing I tried to do was to see if I could figure out how to understand that. So I’ll start the lecture once we finish the remains of the story of Noah. I’ll start the lecture with an attempt to situate the Abrahamic stories in a context that might make them more accessible—at least, a context that works for me to make them more accessible.
Let’s conclude the Noah story. When we ended last time, the ark had come to its resting place. Noah and his family had debarked. This is the story of what occurs immediately afterwards. It’s a very short story, but I think it’s very relevant. Both of these stories, including the Tower of Babel, are very relevant for our current times.
"And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
"And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
"And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servants. And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died. And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech."
I remember thinking about this story 30 years ago. I think the meaning of the story stood out for me. When you read complicated materials, sometimes, a piece of complicated material will stand out, for some reason. It’s like it glitters, I suppose. That might be one way of thinking about it. You’re in sync with it, and you can understand what it means. I really experienced that reading the Dao De Jing, which is this document that I would really like to do a lecture on, at some point. I don’t understand some of the verses, but others stand right out, and I can understand them.
I think I understood what this part of the story of Noah meant. We talked a little bit about what nakedness meant in the story of Adam and Eve. The idea, essentially, was that, to know yourself naked is to become aware of your vulnerability—your physical boundaries in time and space and your fundamental, physiological insufficiencies as they might be judged by others. There’s biological insufficiency that’s built into you, because you’re a fragile, mortal, vulnerable, half insane creature, and that’s just an existential truth. And then, of course, merely as a human being—even with all those faults—there are faults that you have that are particular to you, that might be judged harshly by the group…Well, will definitely be judged harshly by the group. And so to become aware of your nakedness is to become self-conscious, to know your limits, and to know your vulnerability. That’s what is revealed to Ham when he comes across his father naked.
The question is, what does it mean to see your father naked? And especially in an inappropriate manner, like this. It’s as if Ham…He does the same thing that happens in the Mesopotamian creation myth, when Tiamat and Apsu give rise to the first Gods, who are the father of the eventual deity of redemption: Marduk. The first Gods are very careless and noisy, and they kill Apsu, their father, and attempt to inhabit his corpse. That makes Tiamat enraged. She bursts forth from the darkness to do them in. It’s like a precursor to the flood story, or an analog to the flood story.
I see the same thing happening, here, with Ham. He’s insufficiently respectful of his father. The question is, exactly what does the father represent? You could say, well, there’s the father that you have: a human being, a man among men. But then there’s the Father as such, and that’s the spirit of the Father. Insofar as you have a father, you have both at the same time: you have the personal father, a man among other men—just like anyone other’s father—but insofar as that man is your father, that means that he’s something different than just another person. What he is, is the incarnation of the spirit of the Father. To disrespect that carelessly…
Noah makes a mistake, right? He produces wine and gets himself drunk. You might say, well, if he’s sprawled out there for everyone to see, it’s hardly Ham’s fault, if he stumbles across him. But the book is laying out a danger. The danger is that, well, maybe you catch your father at his most vulnerable moment, and if you’re disrespectful, then you transgress against the spirit of the Father. And if you transgress against the spirit of the Father and lose respect for the spirit of the Father, then that is likely to transform you into a slave.
That’s a very interesting idea. I think it’s particularly germane to our current cultural situation. I think that we’re constantly pushed to see the nakedness of our Father, so to speak, because of the intense criticism that’s directed towards our culture—the patriarchal culture. We’re constantly exposing its weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and, let’s say, its nakedness. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, but the purpose of criticism is to separate the wheat from the chaff: it’s not to burn everything to the ground. It’s to say, well, we’re going to carefully look at this; we’re going to carefully differentiate; we’re going to keep what’s good, and we’re going to move away from what’s bad.
The criticism isn’t to identify everything that’s bad: it’s to separate what’s good from what’s bad, so that you can retain what’s good and move towards it. To be careless of that is deadly. You’re inhabited by the spirit of the Father, right? Insofar as you’re a cultural construction, which, of course, is something that the postmodern neo-Marxists are absolutely emphatic about: you’re a cultural construction. Insofar as you’re a cultural construction, then you’re inhabited by the spirit of the Father. To be disrespectful towards that means to undermine the very structure that makes up a good portion of what you are, insofar as you’re a socialized, cultural entity. If you pull the foundation out from underneath that, what do you have left? You can hardly manage on your own. It’s just not possible. You’re a cultural creation.
Ham makes this desperate error, and is careless about exposing himself to the vulnerability of his father. Something like that. He does it without sufficient respect. The judgement is that, not only will he be a slave, but so will all of his descendants. He’s contrasted with the other two sons, who, I suppose, are willing to give their father the benefit of the doubt. When they see him in a compromising position, they handle it with respect, and don’t capitalize on it. Maybe that makes them strong. That’s what it seems like to me. I think that’s what that story means. It has something to do with respect. The funny thing about having respect for your culture—and I suppose that’s partly why I’m doing the Biblical stories: they’re part of my culture. They’re part of our culture, perhaps. But they are certainly part of my culture. It seems to me that it’s worthwhile to treat that with respect, to see what you can glean from it, and not kick it when it’s down, let’s say.
And so that’s how the story of Noah ends. The thing, too, is that Noah is actually a pretty decent incarnation of the spirit of the Father, which, I suppose, is one of the things that makes Ham’s misstep more egregious. I mean, Noah just built an ark and got everybody through the flood, man. It’s not so bad, and so maybe the fact that he happened to drink too much wine one day wasn’t enough to justify humiliating him. I don’t think it’s pushing the limits of symbolic interpretation to note on a daily basis that we’re all contained in an ark. You could think about that as the ark that’s been bequeathed to us by our forefathers: that’s the tremendous infrastructure that we inhabit, that we take for granted because it works so well. It protects us from things that we cannot even imagine, and we don’t have to imagine them, because we’re so well protected.
One of the things that’s really struck me hard about the disintegration and corruption of the universities is the absolute ingratitude that goes along with that. Criticism, as I said, is a fine thing, if it’s done in a proper spirit, and that’s the spirit of separating the wheat from the chaff. But it needs to be accompanied by gratitude, and it does seem to me that anyone who lives in a Western culture at this time and place in history, and who isn’t simultaneously grateful for that, is half blind, at least. It’s never been better than this, and it could be so much worse—and it’s highly likely that it will be so much worse, because, for most of human history, so much worse is the norm.
Then there’s this little story that crops up, that seems, in some ways, unrelated to everything that’s gone before it. But I think it’s also an extremely profound little story. It took me a long time to figure it out. It’s the Tower of Babel.
"And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there." That’s Noah’s descendants. "And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter." So they’re establishing a city.
"And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
"And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
"So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."
It’s a very difficult story to understand. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem to show God in a very good light. Well, that happens fairly frequently in the Old Testament, as far as I can tell. But the thing to do—if you’re reading in the spirit of the text, let’s say—is to remember that it’s God that you’re talking about. Even though you might think that he’s appearing in a bad light, your duty—as a reader, I suppose—is to assume that you’re wrong, and what he did was right. And then you’re supposed to figure out, well, how could it possibly be right? The axiomatic presupposition is that it’s God, and that whatever he does is right. It’s also the case that some of the people that God talks to in the Old Testament actually disagree with him, and convince him to alter his actions. But the point still remains: it’s God, and if he’s doing it, then, by definition, there’s a good reason.
There’s an idea, much later, that John Milton develops in Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost is an amazing poem. It’s a profound enough poem so that it’s almost been incorporated into the Biblical structure, I would say. The corpus of Christianity, post-Milton, was saturated by the Miltonic stories of Satan’s rebellion. None of that’s in the Biblical text. It’s only hinted at, in very brief passages. Milton wrote his poem to justify the ways of God to man, which is quite an ambition. It’s an amazing, profound ambition, to try to produce a literary work that justifies being to human beings. That’s what Milton was trying to do.
One of my viewers sent me a link the other day to a work of philosophy by an Australian philosopher, whose name I don’t remember. He basically wrote a book saying that being as such—human experience—is so corrupt and permeated by suffering that it would be better if it had never existed, at all. It’s sort of the ultimate expression of nihilism. The Mephistopheles in Goethe'sFaust—who’s a Satanic character, obviously—has that as a credo. That’s Satan’s fundamental motivation. His objection to creation itself is that creation is so flawed and so rife with suffering that it would be better if it had never existed, at all. That’s his motivation for attempting to continue to destroy it.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is an intellectual figure. You see that motif emerge very frequently in popular culture. In the Lion King, for example, Scar is a Satanic figure, and also a hyper-intellectual. That’s very common. It’s the evil scientist motif, or the evil advisor to the king: the same motif. It encapsulates something about rationality. What it seems to encapsulate is the idea that rationality, like Satan, is the highest angel in God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s a psychological idea, that the most powerful subelement of the human psyche is the human intellect. It’s this thing that shines out above all within the domain of humanity and, maybe, across the domain of life itself. The human intellect…There’s something absolutely remarkable about it, but it has a flaw. The flaw is that it tends to fall in love with its own productions, and to assume that they’re total. Solzhenitsyn, when he was writing the Gulag Archipelago, had a warning about that, with regards to totalitarian ideology. He said that the price of selling your God-given soul to the entrapments of human dogma was slavery and death, essentially.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan decides that he can do without the transcendent—he can do without God. That’s why he foments rebellion. It’s something like that. The immediate consequence, from Milton’s perspective, was that, as soon as Satan decided that what he knew was sufficient, and that he could do without the transcendent—which you might think about as the domain outside of what you know—immediately, he was in hell. I was studying totalitarianism when I read Paradise Lost. I thought the true poet, like a prophet, is someone who has intimations of the future. Maybe that’s because the poetic mind—the philosophic or poetic mind—is a pattern detector. There are people who can detect the melody of a nation. Melody, as in song: the song of a nation. They can see how it’s going to develop across the centuries. You see that in Nietzsche. Nietzsche, for example, around 1860, prophesied what was going to happen in the 20th century. He said, specifically, that the spectre of communism would kill millions of people in the 20th century. It’s an amazing prophecy. He said that in the notes that became The Will to Power.
Dostoevsky was of the same sort of mind—someone who was in touch enough with the fundamental patterns of human movement that they could extrapolate out into the future and see what was coming. Some people are very good at detecting patterns. Milton, I think, was of that sort. I think he had intimations of what was coming, as human rationality and technology became more and more powerful. The intimation was that we would produce systems that dispensed with God, that were completely rational, that were completely total, and that would immediately turn everything they touched into something indistinguishable from hell. Milton’s warning, embodied in the poem, is that the rational mind that generates a production and then worships it as if it’s absolute, immediately occupies hell.
So what does that have to do with the Tower of Babel? Back in 2008, when we had that economic collapse, a strange political idea emerged, and that was the idea of too big to fail. I thought about that idea for a long time. I thought, there’s something deeply wrong with that. One of the things that made Marx wrong was the belief that capital would flow into the hands of fewer and fewer people, and that the disassociation between the rich and the poor would become more extreme as capitalism developed. Like so many things that Marx said, it’s kind of true.
It’s kind of true in that the distribution of wealth—in fact, the distribution of anything that’s produced—follows a Pareto pattern. The Pareto pattern is basically that a small proportion of people end up with the bulk of the goods. It isn’t just money: anything that people produce creatively ends up in that distribution. The economists call that the Matthew principle, and they take that from a statement in the New Testament. The statement is, "to those who have everything, more will be given; and to those who have nothing, everything will be taken." It’s a map of the manner in which the world manifests itself, where human creative production is involved. The map seems to indicate that, as you start to produce, and you’re successful, the probability that you’ll continue to be successful or accelerate increases, as you’re successful. And as you fail, the probability that you’ll fail starts to accelerate. So your progress through life looks like a sharp curve up, or like a sharp curve down. Something like that.
The reason that Marx was right was because he noted that curve as a feature of the capitalist system. The reason that he was wrong was that it’s not a feature that’s specific to a capitalist system: it’s a feature that’s general to all systems of creative production that are known. It’s like a natural law, and it’s enough of a natural law, by the way, that the distribution of wealth can be modelled using the same equations that govern the distribution of gas molecules in a vacuum. It’s a fundamentally profound observation about the way the world lays itself out. It’s problematic because, if resources accrue unfairly to a small minority of people and there’s a natural law-like element to that, that has to be dealt with from the social perspective, because if the inequality becomes too extreme, then the whole system will destabilize. So you can have an intelligent discussion about how to mitigate the effects of transfer of creative production into the hands of a small number of people.
However, having said that, the other reason that Marx was wrong—there’s a number of them. One is that, even though creative products end up in the hands of a small number of people, it’s not the same number of people consistently, across time. It’s the same proportion of people, and that’s not the same thing. Imagine that there’s water going down a drain. You say, well, look at the spiral; it’s permanent. Well, the spiral’s permanent, but the water molecules aren’t; they’re moving through it. It’s the same, in some sense, with the Pareto distribution. There’s a one percent, and there’s always a one percent, but it’s not the same people. The stability of it differs from culture to culture, but there’s a lot of movement in the upper one percent—a tremendous amount of movement.
One of the reasons for that movement is that things get large, and then they get too large, and then they collapse. So, in 2008, when the politicians said "too big to fail," they got something truly backwards, as far as I can tell. The statement was reversed: it should have been, "so big that it had to fail." That’s what I think the story of the Tower of Babel is about: it’s a warning against the expansion of a system until it encompasses everything. It’s a warning against totalitarian presumptions. For example, when people set out to build the Tower of Babel, they want to build a structure that reaches to heaven. The idea is that it can replace the role of God. It’s something like that. It can erase the distinction between earth and heaven. There’s a utopian vision, there, as well: we can build a structure that’s so large and encompassing that it can replace heaven itself. The fact that that doesn’t work, and that God objects to it, is also extraordinarily interesting. It’s an indication, to me, of the unbelievably profundity of these stories. I think one thing we should have learned from the 20th century—but, of course, didn’t—was that there’s something extraordinarily dangerous about totalitarian utopian visions.
That’s something that Dostoevsky wrote about in his great book Notes from Underground. Dostoevsky figured out by the early 1900s that there was something very, very pathological about a utopian vision of perfection—that it was profoundly antihuman. In Notes from Underground, he demolishes the notion of utopia. Dostoevsky says that, if you brought the socialist utopia into being, and human beings had nothing to do but eat, drink, and busy themselves with the continuation of the species, the first thing that would happen under circumstances like that would be that human beings would go mad and break the system, smash it, just so that something unexpected and crazy could happen.
Human beings don’t want utopian comfort and certainty. Human beings want adventure, chaos, and uncertainty. And so the very notion of a utopia was antihuman, because we’re not built for static utopia: we’re built for a dynamic situation where there’s demands placed on us, and where there’s the optimal amount of uncertainty. We know what happened in the 20th century as a consequence of the widespread promulgation of utopian schemes. What happened was mayhem on a scale that had never been matched in the entire history of humanity. That’s really saying something, because there was plenty of mayhem before the 20th century. I guess there wasn’t as much industrial clout behind it. And so, early in the Biblical narrative, you have a warning against hubris, and some indication that properly functioning systems have an appropriate scale.
I read an article in The Economist magazine this week about the rise of nationalist movements all over the world, as a counterbalance to globalization—maybe it’s most marked with the European economic community. The Economist writers were curious about why that countermovement has been developing. But it seems to me that it’s also a Tower of Babel phenomena: to bring all of that multiplicity under the umbrella of a single unity is to simultaneously erect a system where the top is so far from the bottom that the bottom has no connection to the top. Your social systems have to be large enough so they protect you but small enough that you have a place in them. It seems to me, perhaps, that what’s happened in places like the EEC is that the distance between the typical citizen and the bureaucracy that runs the entire structure has got so great that it’s an element of destabilization, in and of itself. And so people revert back to, say, nationalistic identities. It’s something that they can relate to. There’s a history there, and a shared, genuine identity—an identity of language and tradition that’s not an artificial, abstract imposition from the top.
In the Mesopotamian creation myth, mostly what you see menacing humanity is Tiamat. She’s the dragon of chaos. That’s mother nature, red in tooth and claw. But by the time the Egyptians come along, it isn’t only nature that threatens humanity: it’s the social structure itself. So the Egyptians had two deities that represented the social structure. One was Osiris, who was like the spirit of the Father. He was a great hero who established Egypt, but became old, willfully blind, and senile. He had an evil brother named Seth. Seth was always conspiring to overthrow him. And, because Osiris ignored him long enough, Seth did overthrown him—chopped him into pieces and distributed them all around the kingdom. Osiris’ son, Horus, had to come back and defeat Seth, to take the kingdom back. That’s how that story ends. But the Egyptians seemed to have realized—maybe because they had become bureaucratized to quite a substantial degree—that it wasn’t only nature that threatened humankind: it was also the proclivity of human organizations to become too large, too unwieldy, too deceitful, and too willfully blind, and, therefore, liable to collapse. Again, I see echoes of that in the story of the Tower of Babel. It’s a calling for a kind of humility of social engineering.
One of the other things I’ve learned as a social scientist…I’ve been warned about this by, I would say, great social scientists…is that you want to be very careful about doing large-scale experimentation with large-scale systems, because the probability that, if you implement a scheme in a large-scale social system, that that scheme will have the result that you intended, is negligible. What will happen will be something that you don’t intend—and, even worse, something that works at counter-purposes to your original intent. That makes sense. If you have a very, very complex system, and you perturb it, the probability that you can predict the consequences of the perturbation is extraordinarily low, obviously. If the system works, though, you think you understand it, because it works. You think it’s simpler than it actually is, and so then you think that your model of it is correct, and then you think that your manipulation of the model, which produces the outcome you model, will be the outcome that’s actually produced in the world. That doesn’t work, at all.
I thought about that an awful lot, thinking about how to remediate social systems. Obviously, they need careful attention and adjustment. It struck me that the proper strategy for implementing social change is to stay within your domain of competence. That requires humility, which is a virtue that is never promoted in modern culture, I would say. It’s a virtue that you can hardly even talk about. But humility means you’re probably not as smart as you think you are, and you should be careful. So then the question might be, well, ok, you should be careful, but perhaps you still want to do good. You want to make some positive changes. How can you be careful and do good? Then I would say, well, you try not to step outside the boundaries of your competence. You start small, and you start with things that you actually could adjust, that you actually do understand, that you actually could fix.
I mentioned to you, at one point, that one of the things Carl Jung said was that modern men don’t see God because they don’t look low enough. It’s a very interesting phrase. One of the things that I’ve been promoting online, I suppose, is the idea that you should restrict your attempts to fix things to what’s at hand. There’s probably things about you that you could fix, right? Things that you know aren’t right—not anyone else’s opinion: your own opinion. Maybe there’s some things that you could adjust in your family. That gets hard. You have to have your act together a lot before you can start to adjust your family, because things can kick back on you really hard. You think, well, it’s hard to put yourself together. It’s really hard to put your family together. Why the hell do you think you can put the world together? Because, obviously, the world is more complicated than you and your family. And so, if you’re stymied in your attempts even to set your own house in order—which, of course, you are—then you would think that what that would do would be to make you very, very leery about announcing your broad-scale plans for social revolution.
It’s a peculiar thing because that isn’t how it works. People are much more likely to announce their plans for broad-scale social revolution than they are to try to set themselves straight or their families straight. I think the reason for that is that, as soon as they try to set themselves or their families straight, the system immediately kicks back at them—instantly. Whereas, if they announce their plans for large-scale social revolution, the lag between the announcement and the kickback is so long that they don’t recognize that there’s any error. You can get away with being wrong, if nothing falls on you for a while. It’s also an incitement to hubris, because you announce your plans for large-scale social revolution, stand back, and you don’t get hit by lightning, and you think, well, I might be right, even though you’re seriously not right. I might be right! And then you think, well, how wonderful is that? Especially if you can do it without any real effort. Fundamentally, I believe that that’s what universities teach students to do, now. I really believe that. I think it’s absolutely appalling and horribly dangerous, because it’s not that easy to fix things, especially if you’re not committed to it. I think you know if you’re committed, because what you try to do is straighten out your own life, first, and that’s enough.
I think the New Testament states that it’s more difficult to rule yourself than it is to rule the city. That’s not a metaphor. All of you who made announcements to yourself every January about changing your diet and going to the gym know perfectly well how difficult it is to regulate your own impulses and to bring yourself under the control of some ethical and attentive structure of values. It’s extraordinarily difficult. People don’t do it. Instead, they wander off, and I think they create towers of Babel.
The story indicates that those things collapse under their own weight, and everyone goes their own direction. I think I see that happening with the LGBT community. One of the things I’ve noticed that’s very interesting is that the community is, in some sense…It’s not a community. That’s a technical error. But it’s composed of outsiders, let’s say. What you notice across the decades is that the acronym list keeps growing. I think that’s because there’s an infinite number of ways to be an outsider. Once you open the door to the construction of a group that’s characterized by failing to fit into a group, then you immediately create a category that’s infinitely expandable. I don’t know how long the acronym list is now—it depends on which acronym list you consult—but I’ve seen lists of 10 or more acronyms. One of the things that’s happening is that the community is starting to fragment in its interior, because there is no unity. Once you put a sufficient plurality under the sheltering structure of a single umbrella, say, the disunity starts to appear within. I think that’s also a manifestation of the same issue that this particular story is dealing with.
So that ends, I would say, the most archaic stories in the Bible. I think the flood story and the Tower of Babel story outline the two fundamental dangers that beset mankind. One is the probability that blindness and sin will produce a natural catastrophe, or entice one. That’s one that modern people are very aware of, in principle, right? We’re all hyper-concerned about environmental degradation catastrophe. That’s the continual reactivation of an archetypal idea in our unconscious minds—that there’s something about the way we’re living that’s unsustainable and will create a catastrophe. It’s so interesting because people believe that firmly and deeply, but they don’t see the relationship between that and the archetypal stories. It’s the same story: overconsumption, greed, all of that, is producing an unstable state, and nature will rebel and take us down.
You hear that every day, in every newspaper, in every TV station. It’s broadcast to you constantly. That idea is presented in Genesis, in the story of Noah. So one warning that exists in the stories is to beware of natural catastrophe that’s produced as a consequence of blindness and greed, let’s say. The other is, beware of social structures that overreach, because they’ll also produce fragmentation and disintegration. It’s quite remarkable, I think, that, at the close of the story of the Tower of Babel, we’ve got both of the permanent, existential dangers that present themselves to humanity already identified.
At the end of the story of Adam and Eve, there’s a fall into history. In one way, history begins with the fall. But there’s a second fall, I think, with the flood and the Tower of Babel. History, in an even more real sense, begins with the story of Abraham: we’re no longer precisely in the realm of the purely mythical. That would be another way of thinking about it. We have an identifiable person, who’s part of an identifiable tribe, who’s doing identifiable things. We’re in the realm of history. And so history begins twice in the Old Testament. I suppose it begins again, after Moses, as well. But we’ve moved out of the domain of the purely mythical and into the realm of history, with the emergence of the stories about Abraham.
The first thing that I want to talk about in relationship to the Abrahamic stories is this idea of the experience of God. Abraham, although quite identifiable as an actual individual, is also characterized by this peculiarity. The peculiarity is that God manifests himself to Abraham, both as a voice and a presence. The stories never describe exactly how God manifests himself, except now and then he comes in the form of an angel. That’s fairly concrete. But it’s a funny thing that the author—or authors—of the Abrahamic stories seems to take the idea that God would make an appearance more or less for granted. I think part of the reason that I’ve struggled so much with the Abrahamic stories is because it’s so hard to get a handle on that, and to understand what that might mean. And so I’m going to hit it from a bunch of different perspectives, and we’ll see if we can come up with some understanding of it.
The first thing I’ll do is tell you a story about a female neurologist, whose name escapes me at the moment. She wrote a book called My Stroke of Insight. Jill Bolte, I think is her name. She had medical training from Harvard in neuropsychological function, and she knew a lot about hemispheric specialization. We talked a little bit about hemispheric specialization, before. One of the ways of conceptualizing the difference between the two hemispheres is that the left hemisphere operates in known territory and the right hemisphere operates in unknown territory. That’s one way of thinking about it. Or the left hemisphere operates in the orderly domain and the right hemisphere operates in the chaotic domain. Or the left hemisphere operates in the domain of detail and the right hemisphere operates in the domain of the large picture. It’s something like that. People differ in their neurological wiring, so those are over-generalizations. But that’s ok; we’ll live with that, for the time being.
It’s certainly not an overgeneralization to point out that you do, in fact, have two hemispheres, and that their structures differ, and, if the connections between them are cut—which could happen, for example, if you had surgery for intractable epilepsy—that each hemisphere would be capable of housing its own consciousness. That’s been well documented by neurologists named Gazzaniga and Sperry, who did split brain experiments—must be 30 years ago, now. Now we know that the left and right hemispheres are specialized for different functions. The right hemisphere, for example, seems to be more involved in the generation of negative emotion. The left hemisphere seems to be more involved in the generation of positive emotion and approach. So the right hemisphere stops you, and the left hemisphere moves you forward.
Anyways, Jill Bolte…I hope I’ve got that right…had a stroke and maintained consciousness during the stroke. She analyzed it while it was happening. While it was happening, she was able to hypothesize about what part of her brain was being destroyed. So she had a congenital blood vessel malformation and had an aneurysm. It just about killed her. But she said that it effected her left hemisphere. She said that she experienced a sense of divine unity as a consequence of the stroke, because the left hemisphere function was disrupted and destroyed. She became right hemisphere dominant. Her experience with that was the dissolution of the specific ego into absolute consciousness. It was something like that. That’s only a case study. You don’t want to make too much of case studies, but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that those two kinds of consciousness exist, one being your consciousness, of you as a localized and specified being, and the other being this capacity to experience oceanic dissolution and the sense of the cosmos being one.
Now why we have those capacities for different conscious experiences is very difficult to understand. Part of me thinks that we have a generic human brain—the brain of the species. Allied with that, we have a specific, individual brain. One is the left hemisphere, and one is the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is the specific, individual brain, and usually it’s on and working, because, obviously, you have to take care of yourself as a specific entity, and not as a generalized, cosmic phenomena. It’s hard to dice celery when you’re a generalized, cosmic phenomena, right? You have to be more pointed than that. But let’s make no mistake about it: the fact that those different states of consciousness exist is not disputable. They can be elicited in all sorts of ways.
I’m going to read you something that Aldous Huxley wrote about this back in, I think, 1956. This was after he started his experimentation with mescaline. The psychedelics were introduced into Western culture in the 1950s, in a whole bunch of different ways. LSD was discovered right after the end of World War II. It was discovered by accident, actually. Leaving Sandoz Labs, the guy who discovered it, Albert Hoffman, had spilled some on his hands. You can absorb it through your skin. He was biking home when he had the world’s first LSD trip, which was somewhat of a shock to him—and then to the entire world.
Huxley, who was a great literary figure and a real genius, experimented with mescaline in the late 50s. He wrote a book called The Doors of Perception, which had a huge impact on the emerging psychedelic culture on the East Coast, at Harvard, and on the West Coast, with Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters—the people who popularized LSD. That’s all documented in the book The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test, which I would highly recommend. On the East Coast, it was Timothy Leary. I had Timothy Leary’s old job at Harvard. That was kind of cool, in a warped way. I met people there who knew him, and who didn’t think much of him, also.
Huxley had a mescaline experience that transported him to an alternative consciousness. He said that, during his mescaline experience, the entire world glowed from within, like there was an inner light—a paradisal inner light—and that everything was deeply meaningful, symbolically suggestive, overwhelming, beautiful, and timeless. He had an experience of divine eternity. I suppose that’s the most straightforward way to put that. And we know perfectly well that the psychedelic drugs interact with the brain chemical called serotonin, which is a very, very fundamental neurotransmitter. They all have approximately the same range of effect, although there’s a very large multitude of effects that sort of exist underneath that umbrella.
Huxley was staggered by his mescaline experience. He didn’t really know what to make of it. I think that’s the common experience of people who have exceptionally profound psychedelic experiences. I’ll tell you some documentation about that in a moment. But he spent quite a long time trying to come to grips with what this might mean from an intellectual perspective. Huxley had a great brain. If someone was going to wrestle with a problem like that, he was a good candidate. He must have had a verbal IQ of 180. His books are incredibly literate. He had an incredible mastery of language, complexity of characterization, and intellectual discourse—really remarkable.
So this is what Huxley had to say after his mescaline experience. He talked about heaven and hell, and he talked about that in reference to bad trips, essentially. It was known by that point that a psychedelic experience could transport you to an ecstatic domain of divine revelation, but could take you to the worst imaginable place, as well. Huxley was very interested in why you would even have the capacity for experiences like that, which I think is a very good question. It’s a completely unanswered question. We don’t know much about consciousness, and we know even less about psychedelics, I would say. They are an absolute mystery. I don’t think we understand them in the least. Huxley did a good job of starting to at least map out the mysteries of the terrain.
He said, "like earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins. In relation to the fauna of these regions we are not yet zoologists, we are mere naturalists and collectors of specimens. The fact is unfortunate; but we have to accept it, we have to make the best of it.
"However lowly, the work of the collector must be done, before we can proceed to the higher scientific tasks of classification, analysis, experiment, and theory making. Like the giraffe and the duck-billed platypus, the creatures inhabiting these remoter regions of the mind are exceedingly improbable. Nevertheless they exist, they are facts of observation; and as such, they cannot be ignored by anyone who is honestly trying to understand the world in which he lives."
When psychiatrists started to study LSD—that was mostly in the late 50s and running forward from that—they thought about the drug as a psychotomimetic, which was a chemical substance that would induce psychosis. But that turned out to not be true, not with the psychedelics. Schizophrenics were given LSD, and the schizophrenics reported that, while the experience was certainly extraordinarily strange, it wasn’t like being schizophrenic. And then it was found, later, that if you gave schizophrenics amphetamines, that made them worse. In fact, you can induce a paranoid psychosis in a normal person by overdosing them with amphetamines. So whatever the hallucinogens or psychedelics are doing, it’s not the same thing as mania, and it’s not the same thing as schizophrenia. Not at all. So you can’t just write the experience off as an induced psychosis.
Whatever it is, independent of its utility or lack thereof, it’s not induced psychosis. It can be induced by drugs and deprivation. There are accounts throughout history of people putting themselves in extreme physiological situations in order to induce transformations of consciousness. Fasting is one of the routes to doing that. Dancing is another route. Prolonged periods of isolation will also do it. You could say that exposing yourself to any of those in excess produces a state that’s indistinguishable from illness, and that there’s no reason to assume that the phenomena that are associated with illness have any utility, whatsoever. Although, it’s interesting to me that a disrupted consciousness can produce coherent experiences. It’s not exactly what you’d expect, if it was just an illness. If you developed, say, a high fever, your experience isn’t transcendent and coherent. It’s fragmented and pathologized. The difference, I think, is quite distinct. We don’t have to only speculate about that, because there’s been enough experimental work done, now, with hallucinogens and psychedelics, to indicate that the notion that what they produce is something that’s only akin to pathology is wrong.
It’s not a matter of opinion, at this point in the sequence of scientific and historical investigation. In fact, there was a large-scale study done five or 10 years ago of 200,000 people who had experimented with psychedelics. They were mentally and physically healthier than people who hadn’t on virtually every parameter they examined. In fact, the rate of flashbacks—you’ve heard of LSD flashbacks? It’s mostly a hypothetical phenomena. But the rate of self-reported flashbacks was higher among the non-psychedelic users than among the psychedelic users. That was very interesting. It was a huge study. You could say that those who had experimented with psychedelics were prone to be healthier to begin with, but that still contradicts the pathology argument, so it doesn’t matter. Either way, the pathology argument is contradicted.
Oh, I did put that in. It was Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. This is what she said about her stroke: "I remember that first day of the stroke with terrific bitter-sweetness. In the absence of the normal functioning of my left orientation association area, my perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air. I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle. The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria. This absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss."
Recently, Dr. Roland Griffith—I met him, once, at a conference in San Francisco. Surprise, surprise. It was a conference on awe, and this was just when he was embarking on his experiments with psilocybin, which were the first experiments on hallucinogens that were permitted by the national institute of mental health in some three or four decades. He had to be careful to lay out the scientific protocols so that the ethics committees would approve the experiments, and so that the federal funding agencies would also allow the experiments to go through. He started to experiment with psilocybin. He’s found and published a number of very interesting results. One was that a single psilocybin trip—and I specify trip because, sometimes, when people take psilocybin at the doses that Griffith uses, they don’t have a psychedelic experience. Most people who take the dose do, but not everyone. Those who take the dose and don’t have the mystical experience, don’t experience the consequences of taking the drug. The consequences can be quite profound. One consequence is that, if you have the mystical experience that’s associated with psilocybin ingestion, you’re liable to represent that to others and yourself as one of the two or three most important experiences of your entire life. So that would be at the same level as the birth of your child or your marriage, let’s say—assuming that those were transcendent experiences. But that’s how people describe them. That’s very interesting in and of itself.
Another thing that Griffith reported was that, one year after a single psilocybin dose profound enough to induce a mystical experience, the trait openness of the participants had increased one standard deviation, which is a tremendous amount. And so it looked like one dose produced a permanent neurological and psychological transformation. Now I’m not saying that that’s a good thing. I’m not saying that, because I don’t think that openness is an untroubled blessing. But it’s certainly a testament to the unbelievable potency of the drug. There’s about a ten percent chance, by the way, with psilocybin ingestion, of a trip to hell. That’s certainly something very much worth considering when you’re thinking about the potential effects of this kind of experience.
So the mystical experience produced by psilocybin is rated by people as among the most profound experiences of their life, and as life changing. It produces permanent personality transformations: 85 percent success in smoking cessation with a single dose. That’s another thing that Griffith demonstrated. Now that is mind-boggling. There are chemical treatments for smoking cessation. Bupropion is one. It reduces craving, to some degree, but its success rate is nowhere near 85 percent, certainly not with a single dose. And so we don’t understand how it can be that that occurs, but it’s nice and documented by Griffith’s team.
In this experiment, he gave psilocybin to people who were dying of cancer. "Cancer patients often develop chronic, clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Previous studies suggest that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients." Aldous Huxley took LSD on his deathbed, by the way. So the idea that there was something about psychedelic substances that could buffer people against the catastrophes of mortality is as old as experimentation with the drug itself. "The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety"—unsurprisingly.
I don’t really know if it’s reasonable to describe the emotional state of people diagnosed with cancer of uncertain prognosis or mortal significance as depression, precisely. If you go to the doctor and he tells you that you have intractable, fatal cancer, the normative response is to be rather upset and anxious about that. One of the things that bothers me about clinical psychiatry and clinical psychology is the automatic presupposition that even overwhelming states of negative emotions are properly categorized as depression. I don’t think you’re depressed when you get a cancer diagnosis. I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it. I think that you have a big problem, and it’s not surprising that you’re overwhelmed by negative emotion. To think about that as psychiatric malfunction is a major error. Anyways, it’s a side issue with regards to this study.
"The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety." I cannot imagine how they got this through an ethics committee. It’s like, we’re gonna take people who have uncertain diagnosis of cancer that are potentially life-threatening, and we’re going to give them psychedelics. But they did it, and I think it’s a testament to Griffith’s stature as a researcher that that was allowable.
"This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial"—a very carefully designed clinical investigation. People were assigned to the treatment group, or to the drug group, or to the non-drug group, randomly, blindly. They also investigated the effects of the drug at different doses, which is another hallmark of a well-designed pharmacological study. "…a very low (placebo-like) dose (one or three mg/70 kg) vs. a high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin administered in counterbalanced sequence with five weeks between sessions and a six-month follow-up."
"Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviours throughout the study." That’s also a hallmark of a well-designed study, because it didn’t rely on a single source of information for the outcome data. They got self-reports—that’s fine—but they had relatively objective observers also gathering data, at the same time.
"High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety." That’s a subtle and scientifically sparse statement, but it’s a very interesting one. There’s an intimation of a causal relationship, here: "increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety." The intimation is that one of the ways of decreasing your anxiety about death is to increase the felt meaning in your life. The psilocybin doses potentiate that, but it’s a good thing to know in a general manner, if it happens to be a generalizable truth. If you’re terrified of mortality, terrified of vulnerability, there’s always the possibility that the life path that you’re following isn’t rich enough to buffer you against the negative element of existence. It’s a reasonable hypothesis—and an optimistic one, I think, although also a difficult one.
"At six-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80 percent of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety."
Stephen Ross, a co-investigator, commented that "it is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results." Right—which means that we have no idea why this happens.
"Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with more than 80 percent endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction. Community observer ratings showed corresponding changes. Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes." What that means is that, when researchers were trying to look at a causal relationship between drug ingestion and the positive outcome, the causal relationship was drug ingestion, then mystical experience, then positive outcome. It wasn’t drug ingestion, then positive outcome: there had to be the experience produced by that pharmaceutical agent in order for the pharmaceutical agent to have had its effect.
Again, we don’t know why that is, either. Maybe some people need a higher dose. People vary tremendously in their sensitively to pharmaceutical substances. Now why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling you for a variety of reasons. The first is, make no mistake about it: human beings have the capacity for forms of consciousness that are radically unlike our normative forms of consciousness. The evidence that those alternative forms of consciousness are purely pathological—which is the simplest explanation, right? You perturb a system, it produces pathology. That’s negative. That is the simplest explanation. The evidence for that is weak, at best—leaving out the bad trip issue, which is nontrivial. The empirical evidence, as it accrues, seems to suggest, in fact, that the consequence of positive mystical experience, as associated with psychedelic intake, is overwhelmingly positive, even in extreme situations.
You really can’t find a more extreme situation than uncertain cancer diagnosis with concomitant depression and anxiety. That’s not as bad as it gets, but it’s kinda in the ballpark. And so the fact is that, even under circumstances like that, there was the overwhelming probability that the experience would be positive. That’s another thing that you wouldn’t expect, even from some of the earliest discussions about psychedelic use, that were put forth by people including Timothy Leary, describing the importance of set. The early experimenters noted that, if you had a psychedelic experience and you were in a bad state, or in a bad place, that that was one of the precursors to a bad trip—that the negative emotion that you entered the experience with could be magnified tremendously by the chemical substance. So it was necessary to be somewhere safe, to be around people that you trust, to be in a familiar environment, to get all the variables that you could control, under control. But here’s a situation where that isn’t what’s happening, at all. People have this cancer diagnosis of unspecified outcome, and the vast majority of them had a positive experience, and the positive experience had long-lasting, positive consequences. So the case that the transcendent experience is not real, is wrong. It’s real. We don’t know what that means, because it actually challenges, to some degree, our concepts of what constitutes real. But it’s certainly well within the realm of normative human experience, so it’s part of the human capacity.
There’s been other neurological experiments, too. There’s a Canadian researcher who, if I remember correctly, invented something he called the God Helmet. It used electromagnetic brain stimulation to induce mystical experiences. Now I don’t remember what part of the brain he was shutting off or activating with that particular gadget. All sorts of other indications of this sort of thing have cropped up in other domains of the neurological literature. For example, it’s very common for people who are epileptic to have religious experiences as part of the prodroma to the actual seizure. That was the case with Dostoevsky, who had incredibly intense religious experiences that would culminate in an epileptic seizure. He said that they were of sufficient quality that he would give up his whole life to have had them. The funny thing, too, is that—in my reading of Dostoevsky, at least—I think that the epileptic seizures, and the associated mystical experiences, were part of what made him a transcendently brilliant author. I don’t think that he would have broken through into the domains of insight that he possessed without those strange, neurological experiences. It was certainly not the case that his epilepsy, or the experiences that were associated with it, produced what you might describe as an impairment with his cognitive functions. Quite the contrary. At least, that’s how it looks to me.
Here’s something else worth considering. I don’t know how important it is, but it might be really important. This is something that Carl Jung said, so it depends on how important Jung is. Freud established the field of psychoanalysis, and with it, rigorous investigation into the contents of the unconscious. Modern psychologists and psychiatrists like to…what would you say…denigrate Freud. I think there’s a reason for that: I think that Freud’s fundamental insights were so profound and so valuable that they got immediately absorbed into our culture, and now they seem self-evident. All that’s left of Freud is his errors. We believe everything else. We believe all the profound things he discovered. We just take them for granted, and so we don’t believe the things that he said that weren’t quite on the money. That’s all we credit him with, now. But he was certainly the first person who brought up the idea of the unconscious in a rigorous manner. He was the first person to do a rigorous examination of dreams. The Interpretation of Dreams is a great book. It’s well-worth reading. And Freud was the first person to note that people were, in some sense, inhabited by subpersonalities that had a certain degree of autonomy and independent life—brilliant observation. The cognitive psychologists haven’t caught up with that at all, yet.
Jung was profoundly affected by Nietzsche and Freud. Those were his two main intellectual influences—I don’t think one more than the other. He split with Freud on the religious issue. That was what caused the disruption in their relationship. I think it’s an extremely interesting historical occurrence. It might be of profound significance.
Freud believed that the fundamental myth of the human being was the Oedipal myth. The Oedipal myth, from a broader perspective, is a failed hero story. The Oedipal myth is the myth of a man who grows up, but then, accidentally, becomes too close to his mother, sleeps with her, not knowing who she is, and, as a consequence, blinds himself. There’s a warning in that story about human development gone wrong. I think that Freud put his finger on it extraordinarily well. Human beings have a very long period of dependency, and one of the things that you do see in clinical practice is that many of people’s problems are associated with their inability to break free of their family. They’re consumed by the family drama. They can’t get beyond what happened to them in their family. They’re stuck in the past. That’s equivalent—symbolically speaking, you might say—to the idea of being too close to your mother—of the boundaries being improperly specified. That happens far more often than anyone would like to think. As I said, Freud thought that it was a universal.
Jung had a different idea. His idea was that it wasn’t the failed hero story that was the universal human myth: it was the successful hero story. That’s a big difference. It’s seriously a big difference. The successful hero story is—remember in Sleeping Beauty…You may remember this, in the Disney movie…The evil queen traps the prince in a dungeon. She’s not going to let him out until he’s old. There’s this comical scene where she’s down in the dungeon, he’s all in chains, and she’s laughing at him, telling him what his future’s going to be like. She’s quite evil. She paints this wonderful picture of him being freed in like 80 years and hobbling out of the castle, getting on his horse that’s so old it can barely stand up, and him with grey hair. She recites the story of his eventual, triumphant departure from the castle as an old and decrepit man. She has a great laugh about it. It’s nice. It’s a real punchy story. It’s really something wonderful for children, that story.
The prince gets free of the shackles, and the things that free him are three little female fairies. It’s the positive aspect of the feminine that frees him from the dungeon. It’s very interesting and accurate from a psychological perspective. It’s the negative element of the feminine that encapsulated him in the dungeon, and it’s the positive element of the feminine that frees him. The evil queen is not very happy, when he escapes. You may remember that she stands on top of her castle tower and starts to spin off cosmic sparks. She’s quite the creature, enveloped in flame, and then she turns into a dragon. And then the prince has to fight with her, in order to make contact with sleeping beauty and awaken her from her unconscious existence. It’s a brilliant representation of the successful hero myth. He doesn’t end up staying in an unholy relationship with his mother, let’s say. He escapes, and then conquers the worst thing that can be imagined, and is ennobled by that. As a consequence, he’s able to wake the slumbering feminine from its coma. That’s a Jungian story, and that’s the story that he juxtaposed against Freud.
Freud thought of religious phenomena as part of an occult tide that would drown rationality. That’s why Freud was so vehemently anti-religious. Jung thought, no, that’s not the case. There’s something profound and central to the hero myth. Jungian clinical work is, essentially, the awakening of the hero myth in the analysand—in the client, in the patient—to conceptualize yourself as that which can confront chaos, and triumph. That’s associated with the ennobling of consciousness and the establishment of proper positive relationships between male and female. I’m a skeptical person. I’m a very, very skeptical person. I’ve tried, with every trick I have, to put a lever underneath Jung’s story, lift it up, and disrupt it. I can’t do it. I think he was right, and that Freud was wrong—I mean, I have great respect for Freud. I think he got the problem diagnosed very, very nicely.
In my clinical work, I see the phenomena that Freud described emerge continually, constantly. If you’re interested in that, there’s a documentary you should watch. I may have mentioned it before. I think it’s the best documentary ever made. It’s certainly the best one I’ve ever seen. It’s called Crumb. It’s about an underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb, who was part of the hippy movement—although he hated hippies—in the 60s, in San Francisco, and started the entire underground comic culture that manifested itself, eventually, in graphic novels. He was quite a significant figure, from the perspective of popular art, and a very, very intelligent man. He was also, I would say, a hero, although a very bent, depraved, and warped one—someone very acutely aware of his own shadow. The documentary outlines his attempts to escape from his absolutely dreadful mother, and the failure of his two brothers to do the same thing, one of whom ended up as a street beggar in San Francisco, the other who drank furniture polish and died six months after the documentary was produced. It’s an unbelievably shocking documentary. It’s the only piece of film that I’ve ever seen that captures Freudian pathology.
You can’t see Freudian pathology, generally, unless you’re in a clinical situation, unless you know the person—intimate details of someone’s life. You cannot communicate it. But the documentarist who made the film, Terry Zwigoff, was a friend of the Crumbs. He got access in a way that no one else would’ve. They were also very forthright and forthcoming about their situation, in general. I would highly recommend that. It’s a real punch. If you want to know how a rapist thinks—if you actually want to know, because maybe you don’t want to know. In fact, you probably don’t want to know, right? Because do you really want to know that? To understand that means to put yourself in that position, and to understand it. If you really want to know how a serial sexual predator thinks, and why…If you watch Crumb, and you pay attention, you’ll know. And that’s only a tiny bit of what the film has to offer. It’s really quite remarkable.
Anyways, Jung split with Freud on the issue of the Oedipal story as the fundamental myth of humankind, and on the issue of the validity of the religious viewpoint. Jung came down heavily on the side of the religious viewpoint. He established that in a book called Symbols of Transformation, which was written in 1914. That’s the book that produced the permanent split with Freud. I would say that book’s actually been written four times: it was written as Symbols of Transformation, which Jung extensively revised when he was old, and then it was rewritten, in a sense, by a student of Jung’s, Eric Neumann, who’s also someone that I would really recommend. Eric Neumann, I think, is Jung’s greatest student. He wrote two books. He wrote one called The Origins and History of Consciousness, which is a description of the development of consciousness out of unconsciousness, using the hero myth as an interpretive skeleton.
Neumann viewed the hero myth as the dramatized story of the emergence of human consciousness out of the surrounding unconscious out of which it was embedded—the struggle of consciousness upward, towards the light, like a lotus flower struggles up through the muck and the water to lay itself on the surface of the water, bloom, and reveal the Buddha, which is, of course, what the lotus flower does, from the symbolic perspective. For Neumann, the hero story was the story of the successful development of consciousness. The Origins and History of Consciousness is a great book. Interestingly, Camille Paglia read The Origins and History of Consciousness. She’s one of the few mainstream intellectuals that I’ve ever encountered who read that and commented on it. She believed that it would be a sufficient antidote to postmodern denigration of literature. She thought it was that powerful of a work. I believe that. I think it’s a remarkable book.
Carl Jung wrote the foreword to The Origins and History of Consciousness. He said, in the foreword, that it was the book that he wished he would have written. It’s sort of like Jung wrote—I don’t remember how many volumes…Dozens of very thick, difficult volumes. It’s like Neumann was able to distill those into a single volume statement. I would also say, if you’re interested in Jung, the best book to read is The Origins and History of Consciousness. It’s the best intro into the Jungian world, because Jung’s very difficult to understand. It requires a real shift of perspective in order to understand what he’s talking about.
Neumann wrote another book called The Great Mother, which is a little bit more specialized, in some sense, but it’s also extremely interesting. It fleshes out the archetype of chaos and its representation as feminine. It’s a brilliant book, as well—highly worth reading, both those books.
Jung was a very strange person and a visionary. That’s kept him outside of the academic realm, almost entirely. I was constantly warned, as an undergraduate, and then as a graduate student, and then as a professor, against ever talking about Jung, in any way whatsoever. When I went on the job market, when I’d graduated from McGill, I’d done my scientific research on alcoholism, and I’d had a fairly lengthy publication record that was pure empirical research, and really neurophysiological research into the pharmacology of alcohol. I’d established a reasonably solid dossier of publications. But, at the same time, I was writing this book that became Maps of Meaning. I split my time in graduate school between these two endeavours, one very specifically neurological, pharmacological, and biologically based, and the other very abstract, religious, symbolic, psychoanalytic—the complete opposite. But I can see that the two things overlapped really nicely.
There was a number of scientists, at the time, that were also drawing the same conclusions—the same relationship between the biology and the psychoanalysis. Jaak Panksepp, who wrote a book called Affective Neuroscience—which is a great classic—is one of those people who saw the relationship between the neurobiology of emotion and motivation, and the psychoanalytic insights. It never became a mainstream view, but I think it’s too complex. I think that bridging the gap between the biology and the symbolic is too much for people, generally speaking. It was certainly, virtually too much for me. I got quite ill when I was a graduate student, for a variety of reasons. I also would go out and party three nights a week, and so that probably had something to do with it. But working on those two things simultaneously was also rather exhausting.
Jung was a tremendously insightful clinician. He was a strange person, an introverted visionary, high in introversion, very, very, very, very, very high in openness—like off the charts—and, also, God only knows what his IQ was. I mean, every time I read Jung—it’s like reading Nietzsche—it’s terrifying. He’s so damn smart that he can think up answers to questions that you don’t even—it’s not like you don’t understand the answers: it’s that you never conceptualized the damn questions. It’s really something to read someone like that, who says, here’s a mystery. You go, wow! I never thought of that as a mystery. And then he says, here’s the solution! It’s like, ok…That’s something. He read a very large variety of ancient languages, and he was very familiar with the entire corpus of astrological thought, alchemical thought, classic literature, Biblical stories…I mean, educated in a way that no one is educated now. So he’s a very daunting person to encounter, and terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. His book Aion, which is the second part of volume nine…That damn book is just absolutely terrifying. Jung is one of these visionaries who can see way underneath the social structures and look at patterns that are developing—in Jung’s case, across thousands of years—and lay them out. That’s really something to encounter. Aion is a terrifying book.
Anyways, one question might be—because I read Jung, and I think, how the hell did he know these things? How could he figure these things out? I can’t understand how he could possibly know these things. Well, here’s a partial answer: Jung was a visionary. What that means, as far as I can tell…We could do a little, quick survey, here. How many of you think you think in words? What about pictures? How many of you think in pictures? So that’s about half and half, by the way—probably a few more on the words side. How many of you think in pictures and words? Ok, it was roughly a third in each category. But it’s also something that I really haven’t encountered any research on, from the neuropsychological perspective. It’s like, well, do you think in pictures, or do you think in words? And is that a reliable distinction? I think that I think in words, most of the time. But I can think in pictures—if I’m trying to build something, I can think in pictures almost instantaneously, but it isn’t my natural mode of thinking. I’m hyper-verbal, so my natural mode of thinking is to think everything through in words. But I know my wife isn’t like that. She thinks in images, and then has to translate them into words.
Jung was very literate, and he could really think in words. But he could really think in images, also. Talking to my wife quite extensively, the intensity of her visualization vastly exceeds mine. So, for example, if I close my eyes and I try to imagine the crowd in front of me, it’s pretty low resolution, vague, and not brilliantly colored and vivid. It’s like I’m seeing through a glass darkly, let’s say. I can’t bring images to mind with spectacular clarity, but my wife is very good at that. Jung seemed to be an absolute genius at that kind of thing. He had a lot of visionaries in his family history, as well. I don’t know to what degree there’s a hereditary component to that. I don’t know to what degree that’s actually a neurological specialization. I presume it would be associated with trait openness, and that it differentiates itself into interest in ideas and aesthetics. My suspicion is that the people who are more interested in aesthetics are the visionary types: the ones who think in images.
Anyways, Jung could really think in images, and he could imagine beings. I had a client, once, who was a lucid dreamer. How many of you have had a lucid dream? Ok, many. That phenomena wasn’t really even identified as a phenomena until the end of the 19th century. There was a book written about it that Freud tried to get his hands on but couldn’t because it was a very rare book. There was a researcher about 30 years ago who started to study lucid dreams. But, anyways, I had a client who was a lucid dreamer. One of the things she could do was ask her dream characters what information they were trying to convey, and they would tell her. So that was very interesting. One of the consequences of that was…I don’t have this story completely right in my memory, but it’s close enough. She was afraid of a very large number of things. In her dream, a gypsy standing by a wagon told her that, if she was going to be successful in university, she would have to visit a slaughterhouse. That was something that was way beyond her capacity to tolerate. She was a vegetarian. She couldn’t stand the sight of raw meat, even. She was very oppressed, depressed, and anxious because of the slaughterhouse nature of existence.
The slaughterhouse was out of the question as a clinical intervention. I asked her, what might be equivalent to that? She suggested an embalming, so I took her to an embalming. Exposure therapy is a hallmark of clinical psychology. One of the things you do with people, as a clinician, is you find out what they’re afraid of, and you gradually and voluntarily expose them to that. That cures them. That’s associated with the hero myth, right? It’s exactly the same thing. There’s a dragon; it’s stopping you—because there’s lots of dragons, and most aren’t stopping you. You can ignore them. You don’t have to slash away randomly. You’re not supposed to be fighting dragons that aren’t in your way, but if they are in your way, you can’t ignore them, and then you decompose them into subdragons, and you have people take them on. As they take them on, they dispense with the dragon, and they gain the power of the dragon. It’s like a video game—actually, a video game is like that experience. That’s why people like the video games. Well, that’s right, right? There’s a reason that you absorb power when you overcome things in a video game. It’s not like that’s intrinsic to the video game structure. That’s an archetypal idea. Anyways, we went and saw an embalming, which is a very interesting experience. It was quite useful for her. She knew what she could tolerate, after that, and it was a hell of a lot more than she thought she could tolerate. So that’s very useful to know.
Back to Jung. He’s a visionary thinker. Now, my client could lucid dream; she could ask her dream characters what they wanted, and what they were trying to communicate to her. That was pretty interesting. That happened spontaneously; it had nothing to do with me. I’m interested in dreams, and many of my clients are great dreamers, especially the creative ones. I think it’s a hallmark of creativity to have vivid dreams, and to be able to remember them. But that was a faculty that was natural to her.
I had this other client, at one point, and she had a variety of fears. She told me about a dream she had: She was walking down a beach, and on the side of the beach, up a small dune, there was this old man with a big python. There was a crowd around him. She was walking by the snake handler, the snake, and the crowd, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. He was sort of showing people the snake. She told me that dream, and I thought, well, you probably need to go see that snake. I relaxed her with a quasi-hypnotic technique—it’s very straightforward. Hypnosis is, generally, nothing but pronounced relaxation, although you have to be susceptible to hypnosis to fall into a hypnotic trance, as a consequence of being relaxed. I just relaxed her. I had her breathe deeply, pay attention to different parts of her body, and relax her muscles one by one, so that she could concentrate. And then I told her we’d play with the dream a little bit. It’s a Jungian technique. I said, call the dream image to mind, which she could do quite well. I said, ok, so let’s explore it. It’s like pretend play.
If you’re a kid, and you’re pretend playing, you don’t exactly direct the game, right? You play the game. So it’s partly your direction—obviously, because you’re the player—but the thing also happens spontaneously, of its own accord. You could think about that as a dialog between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, in some sense. It’s development dialog. It’s not a fun game if you just direct it; it’s only a fun game if you’re inviting and something is welling up as a consequence. This is the same thing that happens when you’re engaged in some kind of artistic or literary production. If it’s all top-down, if you’re forcing it, then it’s propaganda. It’s empty. What you want is to put yourself in a receptive state of mind, an imaginative state of mind. It’s sort of half you and half nature itself, manifesting itself in your creative imagination. That was the sort of state that we were striving for.
When my client was relaxed, I asked her, well, what do you think about the snake handler? She said, well, he’s probably a charlatan. He’s just there trying to impress the crowd, and show off. She was afraid to go up there because she thought people would push her towards the snake, and she’d have to touch it. So there was a fear of the crowd issue going on there, too. I said, look, go up there, but do it under these conditions: if people get pushy, what are you going to tell them? We figured out that she should tell them that she wants to look at the snake at her own pace, and that she doesn’t need any encouragement or help, and it would be good if she was just left alone. That enabled her to defend herself. So she was afraid that the crowd would push her to do something that she didn’t want to do. That was part of the theme of the dream. So, anyways, she eventually climbed the dune, in her imagination, and went into the crowd. The crowd turned out to be quite welcoming, and not hostile or pushy, which isn’t what you’d expect, right? You’d think the crowd would’ve reacted in accordance with her fears, since it was her fantasy. But that’s the thing about fantasies, they have this autonomous quality.
The crowd was welcoming, and not hostile, and it turned out the snake handler wasn’t a charlatan. He was just an old guy who had this snake, and he was out there showing it to people because he thought it was a cool thing, and that maybe it was good for people to come and look at a snake. She got close enough to the snake to touch it. I’m telling you that because I want you to understand a bit more about what Jung was trying to do. He wrote these notebooks that haven’t been published yet, called the Black Books. The Black Books are the documentation of his experiments with his imagination. What he would do is daydream, like a child daydreams. He regained that faculty—although, with Jung, I think it was a faculty that never really disappeared. He had figures of imagination, that came to him, that he could speak with. He spoke with these figures of imagination, and documented that over a very long period of time. That was eventually distilled into a book called the Red Book, which was published about three or four years ago. It was a book that Jung regarded as the central source from which all his inspiration emerged.
The way it looks, to me, is that we embody a lot of information in our action. Our action has developed as a consequence of imitating other people—not only the people around us, but, of course, the people around us imitated the people who came before them, and those people imitated the people who came before then, and so on, so far back that it’s as far back as you can go. So you embody these patterns of behaviour that are extremely informative, that you don’t understand, that are a consequence of collective imitation across the centuries. Then those patterns can become manifest as figures of the imagination. Those figures of imagination are the distillations of patterns of behaviour. As the distillations of patterns of behaviour, they have content. It’s not you, that content. You could even think about it as content that’s evolved. Although it’s culturally transmitted, it’s content that’s evolved. And so these figures of the imagination can reveal the structure of reality to you. That’s what happened with Jung, and that’s what he described in the Red Book. That was what permeated his psychology—a psychology that was based on the presupposition that the fundamental, archetypal structures of religious belief were not pathological, deceitful, or protective, in some delusional sense, against the fear of death, but quite the contrary: the very stories that enabled us to move forward as confident human beings in the face of chaos itself. I think it’s conceivable that nothing more important, conceptually, happened in the 20th century than that.
It was the first time post-Enlightenment that a rapprochement between the intellect and the underlying, religious, archetypal substructure occurred. In the capacious intellect of Jung—the same thing happened, to some degree, with Piaget—the religious domain and the factual domain were brought back together. The fact of Jung’s enduring and increasing popularity and influence, I would say, is a direct consequence of that. Some of his work has spun off into the New Age, and the New Age is a very optimistic and naive movement. It’s predicated on the idea that you can do nothing, say, but follow your bliss, and that will take you ever-higher to enlightenment. That’s not the Jungian idea, at all. The Jungian idea is that what you most need will be found where you least want to look.
So there’s this story of King Arthur. King Arthur and his knights are all at a round table. They’re all equals. They’re all superordinate, but they’re all equals. They go off to look for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is the container of the redemptive substance, whatever that is. It might be the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper, or it might be a chalice that was used to capture his blood, on the cross, when he was pierced by a sword. The stories differ, but that’s the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is lost—that’s the redemptive substance. The knights of King Arthur go off to search for the Holy Grail, but they don’t know where to look. Where do you look, when you don’t know where to look, for something that you need, desperately, but have lost? Well, each of the knights goes into the forest at the point that looks darkest to him. That’s Jungian psychoanalysis, in a nutshell: that which you fear and avoid, that which you hold in contempt, and that which disgusts you—that’s the gateway to what you need to know. There’s nothing New Age about that. That’s for sure.
Now Jung, when he started this endeavour, started with this: this is part of the notebooks from the Black Books. He wrote: "My soul, my soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you—are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again…"
For the Jungians, the hero’s journey is a journey within. I think that that’s probably the bias of introverts, to believe that the hero’s journey is only an inward journey. I think that it can be an outward journey, too. I don’t think it matters where you confront the unknown, whether it’s within or without. What matters is whether or not you confront the unknown. That’s what matters. But he found that what he had ignored was an undiscovered part of himself. That might be something that was equivalent to Huxley’s notion that there was tremendous, potential breadth in the realm of human conscious experience
Huxley was influenced, to some degree, by Jung. Jung knew of Huxley’s experiments, and had commented on psychedelic use. He said something, like, beware of wisdom that you did not earn. Jung was very good at stating things very profoundly, very simply. That’s a very intelligent piece of advice: beware of wisdom that you did not earn. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, he wrote a paper called The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, which is an absolute masterwork, but completely incomprehensible unless you know what it’s about. What it’s about is the danger of what he called ego inflation. One of the things that can happen, as a consequence of a revelatory experience, is that the division between the individual ego and…It’s so hard to come up with a word that isn’t, somehow, naive or cliched…To erase the relationship, the boundary, between the specific consciousness of the ego and the more generalized consciousness as such is a dangerous thing to do, because you can start to equate yourself—your specific self—with that more generalized consciousness as such. Jung thought about that as something akin to a psychotic inflation. The paper, The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, is a document that tells you how to avoid that, if you’re playing in this kind of realm. One of the injunctions is to keep your feet on the ground. He thought that Nietzsche wasn’t grounded enough in life—he wasn’t grounded enough in day-to-day rituals, routines, and the mundane. You can debate whether or not that’s the case, whether or not that’s a reasonable argument, but that was still what Jung believed.
Ok, so why am I telling you all of this? I’ll finish with this: "From December 1913 onward, Jung carried on in the same procedure: deliberately evoking a fantasy in a waking state, and then entering into it as into a drama. These fantasies may be understood as a type of dramatized thinking in pictorial form…In retrospect, he recalled that his scientific question was to see what took place when he switched off consciousness. The example of dreams indicated the existence of background activity, and he wanted to give this a possibility of emerging, just as one does when taking mescaline. These journals are Jung’s contemporaneous clinical ledger to his ‘most difficult experiment,’ or what he later describes as ‘a voyage of discovery to the other pole of the world.’"
Jung believed that we were dreaming all the time, but that, during waking life, the pressure of external images was such that the fantasy imagery was of insufficient magnitude to be conscious. He believed that we were always situated in a dream, in relationship to the world.
When we started talking about the creation of the universe at the beginning of the Genesis stories, I spent quite a long time setting the stage for the stories, because there’s no point in having a conversation about the God who gives rise to being unless you have some sense of what that might conceivably mean to the modern mind. I felt the same way about the Abrahamic stories. I couldn’t get a handle them until I could understand and articulate more clearly how a modern person might understand a direct experience of God.
The first question would be, is such a thing possible? The answer to that seems to be a qualified yes. First of all, it’s a universal human experience. That’s a very strange thing. It’s not something that people have made up—as Freud might have it—as a defense against death. It’s not a tenable hypothesis. It’s a realm of potential experience. Now, that experience doesn’t necessarily have to have the Judeo-Christian content that we’ve been discussing. Quite the contrary. There are manifestations of these alternative forms of consciousness, all over the world, that take on their own peculiar forms—although they are patterned, to some degree, like the hero myth. For example, a fight against a dragon seems to be unbelievably widespread. And so it’s not as if it’s random.
There’s not much sense in having a discussion about what happens to Abraham unless you can conceptualize it in terms that are amenable to modern, sceptical consciousness. So we can establish the proposition that mystical experience is not only possible, but that it’s quite common, and that it’s inducible in a variety of ways. The manner in which it’s inducible is reliable, and there’s no evidence, as well, that it’s pathological. In fact, there’s a fair bit of evidence that the patterns of behaviour that are associated with the mystical experience are core elements of proper human adaptation in the world.
The Abrahamic stories open up with a manifest God. I’m going to read you some things from Friedman, who wrote The Disappearance of God. He was trying to look at the underlying structure of the stories. Friedman noted that the books in the Old Testament were written by a lot of different people, at very different times. And then they were sequenced by other people, for reasons that we don’t exactly understand. But there’s still multiple, underlying narrative unities, despite the fact of that rather arbitrary sequencing. That’s a strange thing. I guess you could say, if you had a collection of ancient books, and you were trying to put them together, you’d try to put them together in some way that made sense. It wouldn’t make sense unless you stumbled across some kind of underlying narrative that allowed you to order them. And so it’s not entirely surprising that they’re ordered in a manner that’s comprehensible.
Friedman commented on the underlying narrative structure: "The books of the Old Testament were composed by a great many authors, according to both traditional religious views and modern critical scholarship. The phenomena of the diminishing apparent presence of God across so many stories, through so many books, by so many authors, spread over so many centuries, is consistent enough to be striking, impressive, and ultimately mysterious.
"But the hiding of the divine face is only half of the story. There is another development, also extending across the course of the entire narrative of the Hebrew Bible, which we must see before we can appreciate the full force of this phenomenon, and before we can pose a solution to the mystery of how this happened. Gradually from Genesis to Ezra and Esther, there is a transition from divine to human responsibility for life on earth.
"The story begins in Genesis with God in complete control of the creation, but by the end humans have arrived at a stage at which, in all apparent ways, they have responsibility for the fate of their world…The first two humans, Adam and Eve, take little responsibility themselves. They do not design or build anything. When they are embarrassed over their nudity they do not make clothes; they cover themselves with leaves. It is God who makes their first clothing for them."
Noah: "By no means a fully developed personality, Noah is not an ‘everyman’ either. Broadly speaking, he reflects a step beyond Adam and Even in human character and responsibility…"
Abraham: "Beyond the accounts of divine commands that Abraham carries out, the narrative also includes a variety of stories in which Abraham acts on his own initiative. He divides land with his nephew Lot; he battles kings; he takes concubines; he argues with his wife Sarah; on two occasions he tells kings that Sarah is his sister out of fear that they will kill him to get his wife; he arranges his sons’s marriage. In the place of the single story of Noah’s drunkenness, there are in the case of Abraham the stories of a man’s life.
"The Abraham section thus develops the personality and character of a man to a new degree in Biblical narrative while picturing in him a new degree of responsibility…It is not just that Abraham is kinder, gentler, more intrepid, more ethical, or a better debater than his ancestor Noah. Rather, both Noah and the Abraham stories are pieces of a development of an increasingly stronger stance of humans relative to the deity. Before the story is over, humans will become a good deal stronger and bolder than Abraham."
I don’t know what that means. It is certainly the case that the individual exists in the modern world—the differentiated, self-aware, self-conscious individual. It’s certainly the case that that wasn’t the case at some point in the past. And so it’s the case that there’s been a development. I don’t know if you could call it a progression, but it was a development of the autonomous individual over some span of historical time. We don’t know how long that’s been, but my suspicions are that it hasn’t been that long.
I read about a neolithic ceremony that involved the particular placement of a bear skull in a cave. And then I read that they had found these placements in caves that were at least 25,000 yeas old. And then I read that they found caves in Japan among the Ainu, who were the indigenous inhabitants of Japanese territory, and a rather archaic people, who had the same ceremony with the bear, and that they put the skull in the same orientation and place in caves, and that that tradition remained unbroken for about 25,000 years. You think, well, is it possible for an oral or ritual tradition to remain unbroken for spans of tens of thousands of years? And the answer to that is, not only is it possible, but it’s actually the norm. One chimpanzee is like the next chimpanzee in the biological progression. If you took a chimpanzee troop now, and you went back 25,000 years, and you looked at a chimpanzee troop, it’d be the same thing. There’s no historical progression. That’s how you can tell that chimps really don’t have culture. If they could even accrete one one thousandth of a percent of transmission-able culture per generation, it wouldn’t take more than about a million years before they’d have a whole civilization, and they don’t; they’re the same as they were.
The continuity, the stability and unchanging nature of the species, essentially speaking, is the rule. The variant is us. It’s like, what the hell happened after the last ice age, 15,000 years ago? We went from tribal, uniform, stable to whatever the hell we are now. It’s this transition from generic to specific. It’s something like that. I can’t help but think that that’s reflected in this text, and that it has something to do with this transition of consciousness from possession by the generic divine to dominance by the specific individual. It’s something like that. Is that a neurological transformation? Is that what this is a record of? We don’t know.
Jung’s relationship with God as an object of belief is very complex. In his technical writing, Jung always talks about the image of God. He never talks about God; he talks about the image of God. He said that the image of God dwells within. That’s not the same thing as God dwelling within. All of these capacities that we have for transcendent consciousness could be a byproduct of biological evolution. They could have no relationship whatsoever to an actual transcendent reality. There’s no way of telling. The transcendent reality seems to manifest itself as an element of experience, but that doesn’t mean that it has a reality outside of the subjective, even if it exists, as it clearly does.
Friedman suggests that what’s happening in the Biblical narrative is the sequential emergence of the individual as a redemptive force, and that the Old Testament documents that, implicitly, unconsciously, as a consequence of descriptive fantasy. The cosmos is under the control of generic deity to begin with, something like that, and then that controls shifts to localized, identifiable, increasingly personal and detailed individuals. You see that in Noah, and then you see that Abraham, and then you see that in Moses. And then there’s this working out of what it would mean to be a fully developed individual.
These stories are like prototypes, attempts to bring about the proper mode of being. So Abraham is a manifestation of that, because he enters into a covenant with God. He’s selected by God, or enters into a partnership with God. It’s not exactly obvious. God provides him with forward motion and intuition, and leads him towards a successful mode of being. It’s a complex, successful mode of being, because Abraham has a complex life. There’s plenty of ups and downs. It’s not unbroken purity of being towards a divine end. Abraham lies, cheats, deceives, and does all sorts of things that a real person would do. Moses, for example, kills someone. So the Biblical people are very genuine individuals, but with all their faults, all their sins, all their deceit, they’re still put forth as models of potential proper being in the world. The entire corpus of the Bible seems to be nothing but an attempt to keep throwing up variants of the personality, trying to experiment to find out what personality works in the world. Of course, from the Christian perspective, that culminates in the figure of Christ as the redemptive word, and that’s associated—as we’ve already talked about—with the force that brought order out of chaos at the beginning of time. That’s my attempt to provide proper context for the understanding of the Abrahamic stories. Hopefully, with that context, we can move forward being able to swallow the camel, so to speak, of the initial presence of God in the stories. We will return to all of that next week.