Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Amplifying Unconscious (Part 3)

Originally posted on January 18, 2011

I ended the previous essay (Part 2) about the amplifying unconscious by noting the basic thesis: one of the functions of this type of psychic dynamic is that it amplifies the intensity and speed of the experiences associated with perception, meaning, importance, and the sense of will. However, just because it’s powerful that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily either wise or good. (We have a tendency—based on childish thinking—of idealizing as good that which is powerful, but it doesn’t logically follow!)

I was reminded of the scene in Walt Disney movie, Fantasia (1940, 2000) in which Mickey Mouse played the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” In it the loyal enchanted broom helps Mickey out but then really overdoes it. The amplifying unconscious can do this, take what it takes as the intentions of the master and carry them on often with far more intensity and cleverness than might have been overly intended. It’s sort of a variation of the saying, be careful of what you desire because you might get it! The point here is that the amplifying unconscious is inconceivably clever, but yet not wise. It can serve the vector of the aggregate desires of the ordinary conscious mind, for good, for evil, or for just being muddy-minded.

If on the whole individuals manage to latch on to positive values associated with ideals and disciplines and align their minds in that direction, they tend to get back in amplified ways what they put out. If they generate expansive, loving thoughts and feelings, people tend to reap a good deal of joy, insight, good fortune, and other reinforcements. They also tend to be more productive for the good in many different ways. This is the message of innumerable books about positive thinking and self-help.

If, on the other hand, people tend to become embroiled with the sense of hurt, resentment, victimization, lust, greed, and other negative emotions, it seems that their life becomes filled with occasions that reinforce these attitudes. They also tend to make life awful for others.

To use a somewhat mythical metaphor, it’s as if folks unconsciously access either angels or demons to work on their behalf. While I’m reluctant to be literal, neither do I too quickly or lightly dismiss as mere superstition these “magical” ideas that have been contemplated for many centuries by otherwise thoughtful people. It is important, though, to re-frame those seemingly outside forces as not truly beyond our influence, but rather the expression of undisciplined and often immature habits of our own minds. For example, I doubt that there are external demons per se, but rather suspect an amplifying dynamic that exaggerates and elaborates our own more negative unconscious complexes.

The Muddy Middle Is Also Amplified

Perhaps the above-noted contrast is obscured by a third dynamic, the power of the amplifying unconscious to intensify the ordinary unconscious that I noted in the previous blog. The processes of avoidance exhibited by most people—neither particularly positive nor negative. As I noted, most people want three things: (1) to fulfill childish and unrealistic goals; (2) to attain higher status, the privileges of respect and adulthood, that would be incompatible with the previous goal; and (3) the mental maneuvers—often involving the many defense mechanisms described in dynamic psychology, plus interpersonal manipulations, plus a host of general socio-cultural norms and activities, all of which combine to disguise the first two items while also offering symbolic compromises. All this gets intensified by the amplifying unconsciousness.

In other words, people unconsciously want what they want and don’t want to take responsibility for recognizing that what they want is childish and unrealistic. The amplifying unconscious responds with the Sorcerer’s apprentice power, as if to say, “Okay, I’ll help you achieve that.” As a result, people fill their lives not only with a wealth of subtle neurotic dynamics, but also avoidances, patterns of denial, and a wealth of socio-cultural supports that collude in generating the illusion that what is thought makes perfect sense and that what is known is sufficient. (This accounts for the power of denial in the addictions, for example.)

The presence of this middle level—not obviously aimed at clarity and positivity, nor consisting of a predominance of negativity, but rather just muddy-mindedness—obscures the ability to perceive the shifts towards clarity and positivity or the lapses and drifts into low-grade negativity, and also thereby obscures our understanding of those who reap the benefits or misfortunes of more sustained good or evil.

Further Qualities of the Amplifying Unconscious

Numinosity: This is the experience or illusion that what is imagined, felt, believed, is compellingly important. It also carries a sense that these thoughts are “more real than ordinary reality.”

Ineffability: This is the quality of not being able to clearly articulate what these experiences are about—often not even being able to begin to put words to the feelings.

Epiphany: This is the phenomenon of “everything coming together,” the line in the song, Amazing Grace, of “I once was blind but now I see.” Most associated with relatively sudden transformations, Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, being Born again, we should recognize that the experience can take multiple forms. It can be a revelation of artistic inspiration, scientific breakthrough, philosophic or psychological insight, but also it can take a negative or paranoid turn. The person can begin to “recognize” (re-cognize, think again, re-interpret the meaning), so that problems begin to make sense if viewed as being the product of, say, a vast government or otherwise-populated conspiracy. This turn either towards the positive or negative, or even in the middle, becoming enmeshed in one’s own addiction or folly, may unfold suddenly, but also it can emerge gradually over months and years.

More subtle forms of numinosity can operate so that one feels “compelled” at significant but not overwhelming degrees—and it is possible often to be conscious of and resist this “temptation,” but it isn’t easy. (We must always sustain the ability to differentiate between the impossible and the merely difficult!)

[Reminder About the Format of Being a “Blog” post: I’m publishing this thesis about the amplifying unconscious as a series of posts, and will use parts of your responses to build my argument gradually. This is an experiment in interactivity and its potential to help form the unfolding of this new idea.]

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