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  • Awaking from the Primordial Dream



    This is Chapter 20 of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen L. Talbott. Copyright 1995 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter in its entirety for noncommercial purposes. For information about the author's online newsletter, NETFUTURE: Technology and Human Responsibility, see http://www.netfuture.org/.

    The whole world reaches in man
    its own consciousness.

    -Goethe

     

    Carl Jung, gazing upon a timeless African landscape, found himself momentarily absorbed, dreamlike, into a world not yet fully awake:

    From a low hill in the Athi plains of East Africa I once watched the vast herds of wild animals grazing in soundless stillness, as they had done from time immemorial, touched only by the breath of a primeval world. I felt then as if I were the first man, the first creature, to know that all this is. The entire world around me was still in its primeval state; it did not know that it was. And then, in that one moment in which I came to know, the world sprang into being. /1/

    I imagine most of us have had some such experience, at least to the extent of finding ourselves lost in the hypnotic scene before us as in a reverie. We find ourselves enmeshed, or "caught up," in the world. Our minds seep outward into our surroundings, so that we no longer stand apart from the tableau we contemplate. The psyche, having momentarily escaped the self's constraining will, lives outside the self. Once that loss of boundary occurs, it requires a certain inner wrench, or pulling away, to extract (recollect) ourselves from the world. Only then do we regain our previous separate existence.

    In Jung's case the wrench was also a moment of revelation. He not only recollected himself, but he was struck by the nature of the transition. He knew he had experienced two radically different relationships to the world, and in moving from one state to the other he felt that not only he, but also the world itself, had changed. Something in the world depended on the birth of awareness in him. It was not only he who had "come to himself," but the world had come to itself through him.

    Living in a dream

    You may well ask, "What exactly was this change of awareness Jung describes? Surely he maintained full awareness of the world even during his reverie. He was, after all, conscious throughout, and his senses were registering the scene. His ability to describe the episode in retrospect proves as much."

    There are, however, differing levels of awareness. When I awake in the morning, I may recall my dreams -- proving that I experienced them with some sort of consciousness -- but I nevertheless wake up to a sharper awareness. My dream consciousness, however powerful its feelings, is in some regards duller, less focused than my waking consciousness. It lacks conceptual clarity. And above all, it is less aware of itself. In th