[Carl Jung on the “Ego” and “Super-Consciousness.”]
To W. Y. Evans-Wentz
My dear Mr. Evans-Wentz, 9 February 1939
Thank you very much for kindly sending me Mr. Sturdy’s letter.
I can appreciate his standpoint and I quite agree with him that there are states of intensified consciousness which deserve the name “super-consciousness.”
No matter how far that “super-consciousness” reaches, I’m unable to imagine a condition where it would be completely all embracing, i.e., where there would not be something unconscious left over.
To assume something which is beyond human grasp is a prerogative of faith .
It belongs to metaphysics and not to science, as it is beyond proof and experience.
The question of a highly intensified consciousness however is not the important question.
The point at issue is rather the question of the ego.
The ego in psychology is the cognizing subject designated as “I.”
Thus Mr. Sturdy correctly quotes St. Paul’s saying: “I have seen things . . .. “
So even in his ekstasis Paul himself assures us that an “I” has seen.
Now, if his ego had been completely dissolved and abolished, he never could have said “I have seen,” he might have said “God has seen,” or rather he would not
have been able to tell us even about the fact that something had been seen at all.
So no matter how far an ekstasis goes or how far consciousness can be extended, there is still the continuity of the apperceiving ego which is essential to all forms of consciousness.
It is quite true that we can be oblivious even of our body (being a doctor, I know this only too well) but that does not mean that the psychological ego does not exist anymore.
As a matter of fact, I am going on talking as if I were fully conscious of my ego .
I form my sentences with “I” just as before and if anybody should say to me: “What you are experiencing is not your experience at all, it belongs to somebody else!”
I would certainly reject such a statement.
By such a rejection I would confirm the fact that it was my ego that has apperceived.
When I say that anything psychic beyond consciousness is “dark,” it is quite certainly dark to me because I don’t know it, but I cannot decide whether it is dark or bright in itself, simply because I don’t know it.
And I know no way to ascertain the existence of consciousness for instance in a caterpillar.
One can only believe that psychic existence beyond consciousness is dark or bright.
The so-called “psychic” reactions of lower organisms are very well known to me, but there is no proof at all that these psychic reactions are conscious to an ego, they can be merely psychic.
Psyche is (as is generally known) by no means identical with consciousness, since we know that there are plenty of reactions in man of which he is completely unconscious.
Such reactions can be experimentally produced, observed, and measured, and it is a fact established by thousands of experiments that the individual himself is completely unconscious of them.
One could of course hold that man habitually suffers from double consciousness (double personality), but there is absolutely no evidence for such an assumption.
I cannot see why it is a mystery how the unconscious can ever become known to consciousness.
It is a fact of everyday experience that formerly unconscious contents more or less suddenly emerge into consciousness.
As a matter of fact our consciousness couldn’t function if the unconscious psychic process didn’t support it by providing it with the necessary material.
For instance, if you have forgotten a name and the unconscious obstinately retains it, then you depend almost entirely upon the good will of the unconscious that it allows
you to recall it.
It happens very often that your memory fails you in an almost diabolical way.
I don’t know what Mr. Sturdy means by “being able to control one’s dreams.”
Can he produce dreams at will? For instance, can he say ” today I’m going to dream such and such a dream”?
I have never heard of such a thing.
That you can learn to remember your dreams has nothing to do with “to control one’s dreams.”
There is not one word about control of dreams in Dunne’s book.
Inasmuch as you can remember your dreams at all, it is evident that your consciousness continues at least in a dim way through sleep, otherwise you couldn’t dream and you couldn’t remember the dream.
“As long as Sunyata is cognized by a subject it remains object.”
But when the subject enters Sunyata and becomes identical with it, the subject itself is Sunyata, namely void.
And when the void is really void, there is not even a cognizing subject in it.
The subject has vanished and there cannot be a consciousness of this fact, because there is nothing left any more.
There can also be no memory of it, because there was nothing.
I don’t know what Mr. Sturdy means when he says that telepathy and psychometry etc. ought to be considered.
What is their connection with the fact that there is no consciousness without an ego that is conscious of something?
Surely telepathy widens out our consciousness, but there is always an ego conscious of something.
Mr. Sturdy seems to forget that I’m a psychologist who is a scientist whose duty it is to explore knowable things.
The scientist sees no merit in preaching certain metaphysical convictions.
Thus I accept the fact that there are people who are convinced of the existence of a personal God, or who are convinced that the psychic material which is unconscious to me is conscious to the “I” of God .
I can accept that there is a belief in the Virgin Birth, the immaculate conception, in Parvarti being the wife of Siva, or anything under the sun, but I surely cannot suggest that this is absolute truth, because I simply have no evidence for it.
I want to know what there is to be known, but I don’t want to make assumptions about things of which I know that one cannot know them.
Thus it is absolutely impossible to know what I would experience when that’I” which could experience didn’t exist anymore.
One calls this a contradictio in adjecto.
To experience Sunyata is therefore an impossible experience by definition, as I explained above, and it is also impossible to experience consciousness in a field of which I know nothing.
You can expand your consciousness so that you even cover a field that had been unconscious to you before, but then it is your ego that is conscious of this new acquisition, and there is absolutely no reason to believe then that there is not a million times more unconscious material beyond that little bit of a new acquisition.
Thus agnosticism is my duty as a scientist.
I don’t compete with confessions of religious creeds.
I never claimed to be a metaphysician and I do not sympathize with the preaching of more metaphysical convictions.
We have too many of them already and too few that are really believed.
I am sure you will have a wonderful time in Heluan.
I often think of the splendor of the Egyptian sun in our misty “Niflheim” (home of the mists).
Though I’m thinking furiously about the fundamental psychological problems of the East,
I haven’t done much yet in the way of commenting on the Great Liberation.
The time for it will be April when I shall have the necessary time.
I hope that you will get my Ms. by May.
I enclose [Mr. Sturdy’s] two letters.
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 261-264.