The Fate of the Book

How well do portable electronic devices substitute for Books?  Somebody needs to answer this question.  I didn’t intend to answer it when I sat down to write.  It sort of just came about of its own accord.

Books advertise themselves.  Electronic books do not.  Electronic books cannot facilitate conspicuous consumption.  Conspicuous consumption is important to many people, even if unconsciously.  Good books will always be published.  Deep meditations.  Statements of belief.  Books may also represent the most sophisticated means of tagging oneself.  Conspicuous (i.e., public) reading of a book identifies one with the associated philosophy or readership.  If it’s a heavy book, it shows commitment.

There is a connection between the physical presence of books and the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, the notion that the ritual of the mass effectively transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Ideas are always fleeting, as are all the images displayed on screens in the age of electronic media.  When I say that ideas are always fleeting, I mean that human beings, the descendants of brute animals, must always tax themselves if they are to retain in their minds the presence of any kinds of ideas.  The book was, for many ages, the means by which a complicated strand could find anchor in the physical world.  Now what are these complicated strands?  They express the individuality of their authors.  The book is the transubstantiation of the individuality of its author into physical matter.  The printing process is the equivalent of the Catholic Mass.  The printers are the priests.  The strand of words is the bread and wine, given ornament by the editors, and turned into the body and blood by the printers on the altar of the printing press.  But since the thoughts of an individual are always an inextricable mix of both heterodoxy and orthodoxy, printing actually represents the beliefs of a different religion which elevates the individual instead of the mass.

Electronic screens are as fleeting as ideas.  They do not perform the transformation of words into the individualistic Eucharist the same way as books.  (Since screens are the only way to display moving images they have their own sacred tradition, as does the use of speakers to relay sound.  These are formidable new technologies which can’t be ignored, of course, but the question is how well the screens used in portable electronic devices substitute for Books.)

The book will evermore become the Eucharist of the Individual, the symbol of the religion of the Individual.  It will never relinquish this role until and unless the church of the Individual dissolves.  Which it could, by the way.  No cultures besides ours exhibit such a concern for the individual.  In Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 we see the persecution of this church.  We don’t know its destiny.

One question is whether the printing of books will always be free to anyone with a press or on the other hand relegated to those in power.

Another question is how the financial models of publishing will change given the onslaught of electronic media.  It’s not books which are in peril, just those models.  The current models rely on sales to support the process of publishing.  We might have to revert to a patronage model based on private resources if people can’t sell books directly.  Whether supported by wealth or by popularity, books will be printed.  That threshold is reached when the need is felt for the transubstantiation of ideas into physical matter.  This need is as unlikely to disappear as the Church.

Has anyone drawn the parallel between the Eucharist and Books before?  Or did I reinvent the wheel?  Either way, at least somebody said it now.  On a blog.

Hmmm…  It’s just a draft anyway.  I needed to talk about how blogs are better as drafts than as final products.  Maybe next post…?


Saving the World

Interesting topic, hmmm?

Any given person’s take on what “Saving the World” means will be different from everybody else’s.  As a topic it is of particular concern to me.  Indeed I became obsessed with this topic at about the age of 19 when I discovered the life and works of Joseph Campbell.  (If you don’t know who Joseph Campbell is, look up the Power of Myth, a set of video interviews which is his perfect introduction.)

Looking back, I think that Joseph Campbell’s ideas offered me the opportunity to believe that I myself was far more important than I otherwise could have concluded.  I felt insignificant.  Those were dark times.  I came from a family which had no use for me.  The women – my mother and my father’s second wife – were particularly abusive.  I was most emphatically unnecessary to them.  So how does the fact that I was unnecessary relate to “Saving the World?”  That is what I intend to analyze.  It may seem odd, but the only way I could counteract my inner sense of shame was to have a task assigned to me in which nothing less than the world itself was at stake.  In every situation such as this, the correct question is: to what extent is the World at stake as compared only to the perception by the individual that the world is at stake?  If it becomes clear that the world is not in danger then we wonder, what is it that the person is perceiving?  But the truth is, each of us has an image in the back of his or her own psyche depicting the state of the World.  In most people that image does in fact indicate a world in peril.  This complicates the question enormously because most of us agree that the world is in fact in danger.  This is a remarkable psychic image.

I’m going to detour a bit and talk about the psychic image of the world as it appears in each individual psyche.

I suggest at this time that the extent to which someone has a clear idea of the World, as it occurs as a psychic image, corresponds to the extent of their consciousness as a whole.  As consciousness increases, so does the clarity and resolution of the person’s picture of the world. Now certain intellectuals among my readers will immediately contest that the vast majority of people have no understanding of the world at all.  That may well be true, but it doesn’t stop them from having an image of the world which lies in their psyche and is just as active as the intellectual’s worldview.  Indeed it seems that this image, this primordial image, the archetype of The World, as Jung might say, arrives for people at a very early age.

I remember imagining the world as a very small child before I could reasonably have learned much about it, as we understand from a scientific perspective.  Take the game of peek-a-boo, played by all parents with their small children.  For a time, peek-a-boo is an active and interesting game for a little baby, because the baby only reacts to its immediate environment.  After a while the baby begins to understand the persistence of objects even after they leave the visible sphere, and peek-a-boo becomes so much less interesting in the normally developing child, since they know the parent is still there.  It is in this knowing that the parent is still there that the baby now has formed a psychic image of the World, that the archetype of the World has become active in the baby.  They now know that objects persist outside of their sensible range, many years before anyone can instill in them a scientific understanding of the picture of the planet Earth with its corresponding mass and atmosphere and so on.

What’s notable about this description of the archetype of the World is that the world consists basically of things which happen outside the sensible range of the person, the range of the senses.  The archetype serves as a container for all these events.  Therefore even people who have little or no knowledge of the “World” as the intellectual man sees it, nonetheless have a World just as active as that of the intellectual’s, if not more so.  The number of events occurring in this Archetype multiplies far beyond what the conscious mind can process or imagine.  All such events fall into the unconscious.  But the unconscious nonetheless continues to construct an image of the World.

The formation of the World happens in each person.  As we grow older we are exposed to information indicating to us just how many people there are.  We don’t experience their worlds directly, but that people exist becomes an important part of our own world.  We experience the worlds of other people indirectly, through their expressions and actions, by encountering their personality (“person” comes from Greek, meaning “through the mask”) through our own senses.

I’ve now talked about the psychic image of the world.  It involves the interactions of active but invisible entities outside our sensible sphere.  People and things we know continue to exist for us within the psychic activity I have called the archetype of the World.  With this image, there is a connection to alchemy, in which it is called the Macrocosm.  Here is an alchemical picture depicting the relationship between the Macrocosm and Microcosm (picture A006):

I pointed out that each person has their own world, in which everyone else appears as an outside person.  We can get an idea of what occurs in the worlds of others by encountering those others as seen through our world.  If their face shows anger, for example, our response is almost instinctive.  People’s emotions float around in a group, such as when one person laughs, many laugh, or when a yawn gets passed around the room.  Indeed the operations of the social group become the most important thing by the time a person hits a certain age.  But while the waking life during this phase may be totally preoccupied with assimilating to the behaviors of the group, each person actually spends a lot of time alone, doing mundane activities and sleeping, for example.  Let’s leave out the compulsion to belong to a larger social group for a bit, and talk about the smaller group, the family.

Now my family was not so good overall.  Not for me, anyway.  Family members have the strongest presence, and their behavior conveys their world to a growing child.  I cannot talk about the idea of Saving the World in general without asking a more specific version of my above question:  To what extent is an individual’s desire to “save the World” related to his/her condition within the context of her family?

Indeed it is in asking this question that we find the most probable explanation for the person’s interest in saving the so-called world.  The truth may be that the “world” collectively participated in by the family as a whole, the family’s “world”, has become dangerously contradictory, and most likely in a fashion highly unconscious to all of the family members.  In my particular family there was enough unconsciousness, at the time I became obsessed with saving the world, to drown a large troupe of apes.  It can’t be ignored that, for someone like me in a condition like this, the amount of force required in order to produce a corrective balance in the consciousness and structure of the family would have been enormous.

I choose to end this post here, despite its glaring incompleteness.  I experience what I’m writing as pretty heavy stuff:  Is this an abstract account of the idea of saving the world or a personal account of my own story?  When I’m having trouble conveying an idea, it seems that I default to describing my personal experience.  It’s not that I don’t have more to say about all these things… indeed it is precisely because I have much more to say about all these things that I have so much trouble.  I seem to write ideas here as drafts.

Spiritual Presence in High School

I have received a few comments to my posts.  So my urge to write this post is now somewhere between “dogmatic slumber” and “horse being whipped”.  The ghost of Blog-dom receded far from my consciousness since my last post.  But the comments I received felt like someone whipping the horse.  I must compromise, and write.  Life is about finding the balance between individual and society.  For some reason I didn’t feel like writing.  I think it’s because when I write, the power of my own words begins to affect me.  Until I dig my way through even what I just wrote, I feel nervous and “exposed”.  There is a storehouse of the emotion of guilt which piles up any time one does something outside one’s comfort range.  This guilt takes time to process.

I have two choices with where I can go with this blog.  I can be conservative and quote Carl Jung.  Or I can discuss the flight of my inner mind without attaching to conservative groundposts.  As I said above, life is about finding the balance between individual and society.  Somehow I must unite the resistance I have to blogging right now, and the duty I feel to say something – not just because it has been requested, but also because sometimes when you assign work to yourself you end up pleased with the results.

When I was about 13 years old, my parents paid for me to attend a “Science” summer camp.  I went for two summers, for four weeks at a stretch.  In this camp, the basic rule was that there is a tight schedule and everyone is supposed to follow it.  It was an extraordinary part of my life in that I fell into the pattern of the schedule and I really felt like I belonged.  I could hide the rather strange parts of my individual nature within the opportunity to conform.  I actually knew what I was supposed to do!  This was what was so extraordinary about that brief period of my life.  In general I would give up a lot, if given the chance, to experience that kind of belonging.  But I found, as I think we all do, that unless we want to join the military (for which we give up a lot of peace of mind instead, as the population of war veterans of any modern war will demonstrate), our culture has nowhere where you can fit in and play your role.  In my case in particular, by the time I was 16, there was a thought in me which suggested that such a coherent life was nowhere to be found in all of society.  For anyone who has seen The Matrix, that thought was like “a splinter in [my] mind.”

In anthropological studies of primitive cultures this problem is essentially solved, by tribal units defined by rigorous initiation rituals.  We all feel deep down that our true nature would be as members of a small tribe.  Most of our psychic apparatus is conditioned to work perfectly in such an environment.

The issue I’m analyzing here is that of the effect of uncertainty on the life of the individual.  I’m talking about it from my own perspective.  The uncertainty goes so far as to call into question, who is my tribe?  If I am called into service of some higher power, what is the nature of that higher power?  Am I alone in this world, meaning, is the higher power I serve only to be recognized by myself and no other?  Most people ask and answer this type of question unconsciously.  If you want “most people” go read something else then.

The uncertainty of which tribes one belongs to is a major problem for a person living in our culture.  I definitely enjoyed “serving” the tribe when I was in summer camp.  It would take a lot to cause me to give that feeling up, if indeed it were available to me at all.  In regular school there was no such schedule, or even a sense of what was expected of you.  I went to an upper-middle class public high school in an era when most norms are breaking down and in which political correctness and teachers unions have virtually eliminated the notion that you could give someone a rigorous schedule and then proceed to discipline them, if they fail to follow it.  Perhaps if I’d been sent to boarding school or something things might have been different.  But that just re-emphasizes the problem we have in society, because public schools are a core feature of our culture and a symbol of our egalitarian social values, and to say that public schools are crap is in many ways to say that our society is crap.  Whether it’s crap or not isn’t my point.  My point is that there’s no way you can experience tight schedule and strong expectations in the high school I attended.  If you’ve seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society, you can get a great glimpse of exactly what public high school is not.  The issues dealt with in that film are precisely the opposite of the ones public schooling must cope with today, which I would say is – kids who don’t care, parents who don’t care, teachers who don’t care.

The issue which settled the tribal question for me was when I got rejected by that girl in 10th grade (Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 18 years ago).  It seemed that no tribe I knew of would help me be better accepted by that woman.  There was no longer any masculine authority who could hold any sway for me so long as he remained unable to console me as regards her.  That was the weird part.  That no one could console me as regards her.  I hardly spoke of it to anyone.  I didn’t trust anyone.  It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the writings of certain philosophers who would put my experiences into a context both large enough and sensitive enough to contain them.

What’s weird about it is that I still stand alone, as the writer of a blog who has never discussed these experiences except to you the reader.  The eighteen years since then may have been all for naught.  But who is to judge right and wrong?  Who out there can either confirm or deny the reality and validity of my experiences?  I suppose she could.  Have I evolved so much that she could no longer determine my fate as she once could?  If not her, what else can be the judge?

I certainly would disdain to use the opinions of my colleagues at that time.  Already in high school there were people who looked upon me as a worthy judge of them.  I didn’t see myself as such, but it was not uncommon that people would shrivel in a strange awe of my intelligence.  It didn’t stop them from pursuing their selfish interests, but I think they couldn’t have said anything to me which I hadn’t already considered, and dimly sensing this, they would freeze and subside.  That moment in tenth grade really was as if some spiritual presence showed up in the middle of a high-school context, and absolutely no one was prepared to respond to it either by conscious acknowledgment of what it was or even by correspondingly unconscious superstitious rituals designed to ward away such an appearance.  The public schools have banished God from the classroom, and the result was that there was no response whatsoever to the appearance of a spiritual entity there.

I’ll end this post here, since I feel good about the literary quality of that last sentence.  But I have a lot of themes to pick up on later – Carl Jung’s quotes about guilt, what really did happen in high school at that time, all sorts of themes related to which tribe a person belongs to and how one might serve such tribes.

Actually, it makes sense just to throw a couple paragraphs up on here which I wrote before digressing to the other subjects of this article.  Here they are.  Cheers!

How much one fears following his individual nature is in proportion to how badly he has been treated in the past by the herds and is associated with the emotion of guilt.  How much one desires to follow his individual path comes from the power of his inner force pushing him to such behavior.

One of the major themes of my life has been the question, How much does society need to be saved?  If you look at individual people who are trying to “save the world”, in many cases it’s only the individuals themselves who need to be saved.  As regards one person, there are two sources from which the need to be saved might arise.  The problem will be either an inner problem, or an outer one.  Inner ones are more fascinating to me.  Outer ones are more obvious, but it can’t be overlooked that our culture has focused more on the outer problems than the array of possible inner problems.  Outer problems take two forms, which can also be thought of as inner and outer.  So how shall I discuss this matter?  Should I say “inner-outer” problems, or “outer-inner” problems?  Well neither.

Either my ideas themselves are too unformed to present in a formal way, or I just haven’t discovered particularly good terminology yet.  I shall review what I’ve written so far and begin from the  most important point therein…

The Eagle and the Toad, continued

Continued from the previous post.  If you’ll remember, I had had an original thought about the link between the number ten and the three functions of ego-driven consciousness in relation to the little toad driven by God and the non-ego.  The thought was this.

First, a little description of Jung’s idea of the functions of consciousness.  In Jung’s psychology each person possesses four functions, namely Thinking and Feeling, which are opposites, and Sensation and Intuition, also opposites.  At any rate the individual ego develops by mastering at first one function and then as needed by developing two more.  The development of the ego is restricted to the use of three functions.  Should the fourth function need to develop it does so of its own accord, without the involvement of the conscious will of the person.  For some reason the conscious will can only construct its view of itself by excluding the fourth function.  Perhaps it’s because at heart the ego defines itself by what it is not, that in order to construct itself it must move away from something which it only vaguely perceives.

The ego nonetheless has a very strong power drive.  In conscious life it means that people are almost exclusively preoccupied with serving the needs of their conscious ego, regardless of how utterly insignificant are their efforts from another viewpoint, say, that of the society as a whole.  Or from the perspective of a clan of bunny rabbits, or from the perspective of creatures on a totally different planet.  The perspective of GOD would clearly include of all of these.  The ego however confines the general scope of a person’s consciousness to a much smaller domain.  Without digressing too far, I will talk about my original idea.  The relation between the human ego and the human hand has been well described, as the hand is the primary instrument of human power.  The hands have ten fingers.  Now each time the ego adopts the use of a new function of consciousness it could be said to have the power of multiplication at its disposal.  Therefore when the ego uses three functions it represents ten times ten times ten, or a thousand levels of power.  The Eagle in the above description represents the ego.  It flies fast and in three dimensions, ten times ten times ten (two hands, times two hands, times two hands).

The little toad, by contrast, “is a contrary element, namely earth, whereon alone it moves by slow steps, and does not trust itself to another element.  Its head is very heavy and gazes at the earth…  it is firm and solid.  Upon it as a foundation the Golden House is to be built.”  The toad could be said according to this description to possess one level of power.  It represents the mysterious Fourth function, which is actually the function of what historically was known as God.  Therefore to build your house upon this function feels one thousand times slower than building it with the ego.

I can only attest from my own experience that this is an accurate ratio.  I’ve been on my weird religious mission since I was 20 years old, and I’m almost 34 now.  I have one accomplishment, which is this blog.  In all those years while I was piecing myself back together again I always was demoralized by the slow rate of my progress.  I was saved so much torment by reading Jung and the Alchemists.  If you look at Jung’s life you will see that he essentially followed his own advice, building his house on the toad as opposed to the eagle.  Jung had several extraordinary talents, and we can’t tell how much his success was dependent, not on anything he chose to do but rather on the sheer number of talents he was born with.

Still, that he dredged up this old advice is certainly an invaluable service to civilization.  Whether it’s enough to insure the survival of civilization remains unknown.  We shall see.  Jung said, “if enough people will become conscious,” but he was by no means certain either.  Speaking for myself, I totally wonder if there’s any salaried positions extrapolating on the meaning of alchemical texts.

The Eagle and the Toad

I ended last post saying I would continue, but I’m going to leave the description of videogames out of this post because a blog need not be so orderly as a formal presentation.  Indeed, the topic of my last post may itself have come as a surprise.  Perhaps I will use this post to lay the groundwork for a clear connectivity between the different topics I blog about.

Without too much further ado, I want to quote my (current) favorite alchemical passage.  This one is quoted by Jung on page 4 of his Mysterium Coniunctionis.  There is an accompanying picture, which is picture A112 on the Alchemy Website, available for viewing thanks to the internet:

(picture A112)

The image was originally in black and white.  It was colored by Adam McLean.

I’ll just quote the whole passage from Jung:

I would mention the eagle and the toad (“the eagle flying through the air and the toad crawling on the ground”), which are the “emblem” of Avicenna in Michael Maier the eagle representing Luna “or Juno, Venus, Beya, who is fugitive and winged like the eagle, which flies up to the clouds and receives the rays of the sun in his eyes.”  The toad “is the opposite of air, it is a contrary element, namely earth, whereon alone it moves by slow steps, and does not trust itself to another element.  Its head is very heavy and gazes at the earth.  For this reason it denotes the philosophic earth, which cannot fly [i.e., cannot be sublimated], as it is firm and solid.  Upon it as a foundation the Golden House is to be built.  Were it not for the earth in our work the air would fly away, neither would the fire have its nourishment, nor the water its vessel.”

The point is here not to worry about the unfamiliar words.  As I have said, Jung uses them in abundance (link to post about Jung’s language).  It is the image as a whole which I love.  The quote doesn’t mention that the eagle and the toad are chained to each other.  What this image is getting at is of the most profound significance.  Firstly we would call attention to the similarity to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The basic principle of that story is that “slow and steady wins the race.”  The alchemical image is much richer though, because the eagle can fly in three dimensions, is a bird of prey, eyes fixed looking forward like those of a person, and in general “receives the rays of the sun in his eyes”.

It seems that almost all young people take on this aspect of the eagle.  But the quote tells us specifically to avert our gaze and ground our work in the slow and steady and humble toad.  This is the most anti-glamorous approach to almost anything.  Because of this, very few people will take this approach to life.  That why I am so grateful that the alchemists stated so clearly how important it is.  Jung himself adopted the approach of the alchemists, so we are not wrong in receiving the same message through his books instead of reading the almost unobtainable alchemical texts directly.

To live a life in which you see so many other people living a glamorous existence, as you do when you turn on the TV, for example, it becomes necessary to find a way of living that gives just as much credit to the humdrum and the mundane.  Most of us want to escape our bodies much of the time, so as not to have to live within the limitations of our nature, but the truth is that our bodies are the best place for us to do the hard work of figuring out how to live.  The more we figure out how to live, the closer we are to building the Golden House, but it’s a Golden House for ourselves, indeed our only individual self — we don’t have to live in it through our imaginations, as we do when we watch TV.  But all this is easy to forget, which is why the alchemists and people like Carl Jung are so important, because they learned through real life how the right way to proceed – especially when you are working on yourself – is like the toad, and they announce strongly the need for this approach.

It has also been said that this philosophy in general is more suited to those who have reached “the second half of life.”  I have always had mixed feelings about this terminology, since I’ve never been able to get a solid foothold on the “first half of life” myself .  But we should say that the hard work of working on oneself does drain resources which many younger people would use to make achievements in society, and it would be hard to convince people who were perfectly happy achieving within society to start “gazing at their navels”, as it were.  I must therefore class myself in a rather peculiar group of people who found it necessary to learn about all these things starting even as a teenager.  It is easily attributed a few basic facts.

One, that society really is pretty messed up and that someone coming from a dysfunctional family will easily find that no one has reached out a hand for them.  Without a little mentorship and guidance it would take a particularly strong person, who is more-or-less naturally adjusted to the tempores et mores of their culture, to find his way into an established position.  Some folks are naturally adjusted, and some aren’t.  Secondly, I found that there was so much secret stuff in what Carl Jung would call the Unconscious, which to my natural senses seemed even more important than all the stuff everybody in society was preoccupied with.  Over time, I have concluded that if society weren’t so messed up, I wouldn’t have had nearly such a hard time finding an appropriate approach to the so-called “first half of life.”

As it is, however, I’ve spent my life since about age 19 in the process of recovering a large bunch of components from the Unconscious.  This is to be understood as a naturally occurring corrective action on the part of the collective psyche, that I should have been put to such a task at such a young age.  In Jung’s model of the individual psyche, a person who has developed too far in precisely one direction will suffer a nervous disability as the result of being now too far from the person’s instinctive center.  The reasons any given person will have arrived at this point are too complex to mention right now (perhaps in a later article), but when it does happen, they suffer a powerful pull in the exact opposite direction in which they are used to traveling.

Jung’s model for the individual psyche is very powerful, so powerful in fact that it can easily be seen to apply to entire cultures as well.  This is how the hero’s journey comes to be intertwined with mental illness.  The hero performs some deed for the whole of the society he or she lives in.  If society itself has traveled too far in one direction, then that person who can recall the lost information and have the courage to stand against the herd is a hero.  At the same time there’s no reason they shouldn’t be mistaken for someone with a mental illness since they have taken up a place where no one else is standing.  What isn’t realized is that the reason no one is standing there isn’t because it’s a bad place.  In this case it’s because the herd momentum has carried it far from that place, through unconscious herd-mentality.

The herd doesn’t realize that it has no shepherd who can in any way claim to have consciously led society to its current place.  People are apparently so susceptible to being transfixed by the movement of groups that they hardly ever detect the lack of a shepherd of sufficient consciousness within that group.  It’s likely that this is a characteristic rooted so deeply in the human psyche that we’ll never be able to triumph over it completely – a thought which reminds me of Jung’s favorite story, about a population of people who surround the newly sprung fountain of water in such a way that they don’t detect the lack of water until far after it has dried up and appeared again in some far away place.

To be continued… I had an original thought about the link between the number ten and the three functions of ego-driven consciousness in relation to the little toad driven by God and the non-ego.

Introduction: How Do Turn-based Videogames Tell Stories?

A survey of Turn-Based game styles.  I want to try to detail the spectrum of ways in which games deal with actions in turn-based video games.  This is another topic I feel to be huge.  But I think I am ready to produce an outline of the categories.

What’s at Stake?  What’s at stake here?  Well, the mysterious nature of video games has haunted me for years.  If I am ever to expand my range beyond the writing of this blog, it seems likely that I’ll try to tell my stories through the medium of games.

After considering the question for some time, I decided that I would focus on turn-based games.  A turn-based game is one in which the players take their turns, one after another without mixing their influences during the same time period.  Almost all table-top games are of this type.  Contrasting to this is the Real-Time game.  Most sports are of this type.  The question has been raised countless times, how closely can a computer simulate human thoughts and actions?  The question must necessarily be divided into the two categories – how well does it simulate real-time human behavior and how well turn-based behavior.  I decided that turn-based simulation was the most interesting to me.  A turn gives the computer a chance to respond with the whole of its programming.  It seems to be the best way of telling a story because it doesn’t force the person to match reflexes with the computer.  It’s hard a to get a real-time simulation right.  The more time you spend trying to calibrate your real-time game the less time you spend telling a story – at least it seems that way to me.

How do you tell a story in a turn-based computer game?  ( I use the term “game” because it has become a convention, not because I confine my desires to what is traditionally associated with “games”.  Many other terms have been suggested or used, but the genres haven’t been completely defined.)  Well that’s what I want to explore.

I think I’m ready to make an outline of how turn-based games tell stories.  I’ll leave it till next post.

The Anxiety of Influence and the Collective Unconscious

Being granted a vision of the depths doesn’t exempt you from having to live on the surface.  As I thought of this I glanced at Carl Jung’s Red Book, which depicts in its rawest form Jung’s encounter with his own depths.  On the surface he had already established a successful career as a psychiatrist, married into wealth, and was supported during his journey by his wife and, uh, his other wife, a woman named Toni Wolfe.  This is the best possible way to enter the underworld – when you’re established and surrounded by supportive women and children.

On the one hand we can be thankful that Jung was able to enter his journey with the fewest external distractions possible, because it enabled him to bring back so much wisdom from the Unconscious.  But it doesn’t necessarily help those people with as many problems in the outer world as in the inner world.  It’s possible that Jung was just an extraordinarily lucky bastard, since he could know that his outer life was full of loving and supportive people and tremendous professional success.  I say this because I have no idea how to confront the problems of my own life.  Anyone who studies Jung must reconcile what part of Jung’s life could be attributed to the luck of Jung’s circumstances.

Under what conditions is it possible to encounter the Unconscious and live to tell about it?  Is it appropriate for someone like me, for example, to encounter the Unconscious?  Should I expect to survive the ordeal, given the objective facts of my own life?  On the one hand I’m grateful Jung was able to survive at all.  If it took great health, tremendous professional success, wealth, a perfect home life, not to mention a second wife — if it took all these things in order to allow Jung to bring back his treasure, then why should I wish he had less of these things?

It kind of relativizes his success in a way.  For example, I wouldn’t know where to get a blank Red Book even if I wanted to fill one up.  I guess you’d go to an art supply store?  Here’s another example.  Jung said that he didn’t know how anyone could live without being near water.  Well, Carl, there’s a whole shitload of people who don’t get to live near bodies of water for all sorts of fucked up reasons.  Take, for example, the fact that we’re not all fabulously wealthy, and that we can’t all just up and move to expensive waterfront property like you.  I have another example.  We’re not all Swiss.  Some of us are just stupid Americans who grew up in suburbs.  Individuate that.  We didn’t have cute little parents who actually gave a crap what happened to us because they were too busy with their own selfish lives.

Well, at any rate, at least I can say it’s a love-hate relationship I have with Dr. Jung.  He happens to have opened up channels of exploration which no one else did.  The difficulty we have now is in trying to calculate the value of his more mystical works.  It should be evident to anyone that there is a substantial mind exploring some very deep places.  Ironically he has also given us the best terminology for discussing the value of his works, that of personal unconscious and collective unconscious.

Almost all moderns will admit to believing in a personal unconscious if you define it for them.  For example, if anyone has ever had a dream and not understood parts of it, then that demonstrates that they have a personal unconscious.  What few people believe is that what happens in the personal unconscious may be connected to forces operating in their environment among more than just themselves.  I need to mention that there are necessarily different kinds of collective unconscious, because different groups of people may be implied.  You could have a family unconscious, for example, in which one member’s dreams produce symbols which have validity for their entire family, and yet could not be extended reasonably beyond that.  A specific uncle for example.  But the idea of an uncle could apply to anyone who has an uncle, or knows someone who has an uncle.  Sometimes in a dream the idea actually matters more than the specific person.  So if I dream about Uncle Charlie, the fact that he’s my uncle might be the more relevant factor — his peg leg might not come into it at all.  But if its the peg leg or another detail that matters, then you can’t really say the idea of Uncle mattered.  At any rate, the idea would be called the Archetype of the Uncle.

The meaning of the Archetype is by no means determined though.  It could mean different things to different people.  Jung’s claim is that some of the Archetypes carry the same meaning for ALL people.  That’s the total opposite of the personal unconscious, in which the figure appearing in the dream would have meaning only for the person who dreamt it.  This is actually a pretty audacious claim, since there are so many levels in which the meaning could vary from group to group.  Dreaming of a butterfly might mean something totally different to an aboriginal Australian than to a suburbanite like myself.  But the difference could extend to much narrower spheres.  For example, my High School mascot was the Panther.  Therefore anyone from my high school will have a slightly different understanding of the symbol of the Panther than the people from the neighboring High School.  This part of Panther-ness would be a part of a collective mythos of my High School, but would only extend to people who went there (or encountered it somehow), and the appearance of a Panther in my dream might appear to a naive psychoanalyst to mean something completely different from what it really does mean.  Therefore a local version of a symbol could modify or contaminate what the symbol might mean in a broader way.  This local effect can extend to all sorts of various regions, large or small.  The appearance of a compact Japanese car in a dream would have generally different connotations in an American than in a Japanese.  There are many levels of groupings starting from the individual and moving all the way up to the whole human race.

Because of so many possible contaminations on so many different levels, it becomes very hard to declare some symbol or experience to be characteristic of a Universal Collective unconscious.  Nonetheless this claim is made by Jung.  Another important item to point out, is that as soon as contact is established between one group of people and another group then arguments for the collective unconscious become that much harder because one can then claim that the one group’s knowing the other group was the reason their symbols carried the same meanings.  In a digitally connected world, needless to say, it will be virtually impossible to prove by experiment and analysis that the meaning of a symbol comes directly from the universal collective unconscious, as opposed to by means of cultural diffusion.

OK, now that I’ve described the meanings of the personal and collective unconscious(es), I’ll return to the main point.  I said that these two terms are the best way of evaluating Jung’s works.  The question is whether Jung’s more mystical works are better described as expressions of a personal unconscious or of the collective Unconscious.  As I have just described, there is actually much room in between.  They could be expressions of the Collective unconscious of the Swiss People, for example, of the German-speaking peoples, or, to continue that analysis, of the unconscious of those people living in the Protestant countries, or in all the Christendom, or in all the monotheistic countries (hence including the Muslims and Jews as well),  or in all the Advanced Civilizations (thus adding China, India, Japan), or indeed in the Universal Collective unconscious, which then adds all the primitive cultures and whatever else I didn’t mention as well.  The value of Jung’s (mystical) writings must necessarily be limited to those cultures into which his unconscious was tapped, which might well be all of them, but there’s no reason to assume so.

The harshest critics will limit Jung’s contribution to exactly one person, himself.  There’s actually a guy who did this, and I found his book in a used book store.  It’s called What’s Wrong With Jung.  I don’t want to comment on this book, other than to say that it shows how varied the responses to Jung’s efforts have been.

So what was I talking about?  Anxiety of Influence – the phrase coined by a literary critic named Harold Bloom.  “Genius recognizes genius,” he said.  I certainly suffer Anxiety of Influence when it comes to Carl Jung.  When I start reading him it’s like diving into an ocean of paradox and knowledge, experience, and just plain weirdness.  But I also recognize genius.  For me, when it comes to Carl Jung, “The way out is through.” (I just discovered that phrase today in a film on the internet – look up Doraleous and Associates – it’s quite funny.)

Anyway, Anxiety of Influence is what happens to all English playwrights who come after Shakespeare, when they have to consciously confront the existence of Shakespeare’s plays.  Harold Bloom says that the good playwrights cannot avoid confronting this, that indeed their creativity comes from their attempts to adapt to the existence of the great ones before them.  I imagine all music composers after Beethoven have had this problem.

Well, Carl Jung is my Shakespeare.  I consider my topic to be Philosophy rather than Psychology, but that’s actually an arbitrary distinction because the two seem to merge so completely with Carl Jung.  Philosophy means The Love of Wisdom, and that’s where I build my camp.  I can’t comment on the extent to which Philosophy, as it is taught in modern classrooms, is related to the Love of Wisdom, since I don’t know any Philosophy Professors.  Who knows?  The modern Philosophy classroom may have as close a relationship to the Love of Wisdom as the Defense Department has to Defense, which is probably why we need both a separate department called “Homeland Security”, and actual Philosophers like myself.