Wael Al-Mahdi (2010)

If the goal is to become conscious, I can surely do this on my own, without the mediation of dreams?  I’m not discounting the importance of the unconscious here, but if can hardly understand my dreams, especially the more mythological ones, how can I expect to gain any consciousness-expanding insights from them?  Further, the ones that I do understand are quite clear and usually do no more than rearrange the worries and preoccupations of waking life. 

This question has kept awake for many nights:  why worry about myths, images, imagos, archetypes, analyses, etc, when the meaning is usually either abundantly clear, or hopelessly murky?  Almost all of the psychological progress I’ve made in recent months has been a function of two factors:  (1) my conscious, ego-centered will, the strengthening of which was necessary if I were to accomplish anything at all, and (2) unknown factors, certainly stemming from the unconscious but so far immune to any analysis of origin or causation.  It is plain the first factor, while difficult to grapple with, can be influenced by conscious decision-making.  The second factor, on the other hand, is far from comprehensible or controllable.  Even its basic operations are opaque and almost inaccessible.

As far I can tell, all that is necessary to know thyself, to become conscious of yourself (if that is the desired goal at all), is to look at yourself, to turn the ‘evil eye’ on yourself, as Nietzsche puts it; to question your thoughts, actions, desires, feelings.  Only a constant self-interrogation will unlock the secrets of your unconscious constructs.  But to what benefit?  Ancient and modern experience show that increased consciousness results in less inner and/or outer conflict, fewer destructive fantasies, better adaptation, and perhaps most important of all, less self-deception.  To the extent that these results are desirable is it necessary to pursue self-consciousness at all.

 Whatever we say about myths, and whatever elaborate theories we set up about their origins and function, we must stress one powerful aspect:  that fact that myths bring pleasure and satisfaction.  Could it be that myths are elements of typical human experience arranged in such a way as to elicit the most satisfaction from the beholder?  Or, in the language of evolutionary psychology, to press our pleasure buttons?  Tragedy, for example, has this well-known characteristic of eliciting pleasure, especially from depictions of misfortune.  Perhaps what we are really after is not pleasure but stimulation in general, even if it borders on pain or discomfort.  Facile as the pleasure/pain principle may seem to us in an age where the search for meaning is paramount, it seems that Freud found a concise and effective formula for what drives human psychology.  We must also add, however, that these sources of pleasure did not arise ex nihilo, nor are they with function, but were originally adaptive in the biological sense of the word.  To put it somewhat simplistically:  what gives pleasure usually leads to better fitness and reproduction, and to wider spread of genes, on average and in the primordial evolutionary environment. 




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