The Collective Mind

On Dec 9 Arthur from Boston Area Philosophy Discussions had another great event called “The Collective Mind”. Personally, I was not able to attend but Arthur created great intro and follow-up messages:

The Wisdom of Crowds, Smart Mobs

Intro: The notion of collective mind or of a collective consciousness is as old as philosophy itself. Beginning with Heraclitus and continuing throughout the history of Greek philosophy the ideas signified by such terms as Logos and Nous denoted a belief in an underlying order, unity or logic that controlled and/or explained the nature of the universe. If there is a Logos it would suggest that it is possible for the individual human mind to connect or tap into it. This possibility may be viewed as the dividing theme on beliefs concerning a collective mind: a division between what might be described as the transcendental versus the scientific orientation towards mind and, by extension, towards reality.

The term “collective consciousness’ was coined by Emile Durkheim, the famous French sociologist and anthropologist. Durkheim used the term to denote the shared values, beliefs and customs that in a sense are an extension of the human brain to the exterior forms of culture and society. Durkheim’s view may be considered to be a scientific model of a collective mind that requires no transcendental belief in immaterial reality. Even a philosopher like Hegel, I think, can be classified as “scientific” because while he clearly was not practicing science in the modern sense of the word he himself viewed his interpretation of the “unfolding of consciousness” or the “world spirit” as a scientific expression of events and of history. Having said that, I am clearly not suggesting that the contrivances of Hegel’s logic are in any sense “science.”

What I am calling the “transcendental” orientation towards collective consciousness may have roots in German and English Romanticism as well as American Transcendentalism that was contemporary with Hegel, including Schopenhauer’s conception of the Will as the driving force of all of nature. And fast forwarding into the twentieth century, the psychology of Carl Jung helped to shape transcendental ideas of the collective consciousness that he called the collective unconscious. Jungian psychology uses what are ascribed to be archetypal concepts, and it seems natural that from this orientation Jung developed his notion of synchronicityin an attempt to give scientific credence to some parapsychological phenomena requiring some sort of psychic underpinning of reality. I think that Jung, fairly late in his life, was quite intentionally trying to forge connections between his psychology and the parapsychological research of Joseph Rhine (of Duke University).

This discussion will entertain the notions of the collective mind. I prefer to use the term ‘mind’ as opposed to ‘consciousness’ because, in my view, ‘mind’ is only intelligence superimposed upon consciousness. For example, I believe that a caterpillar and even less evolved life forms are conscious but that intelligence combined with consciousness demonstrates the gradations of mind. I am of the opinion, to continue further, that the consciousness of an infant is the same as the consciousness of an adult, but it is the evolving thought processes of self-awareness and rationality that deepen what one might call an appreciation of consciousness. The same reasoning, I argue, applies to animals. And, therefore, the collective mind involves the consciousness of ideas, concepts, memories, emotions, and even beliefs.

The question posed for this discussion is whether the Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) is determined by purely scientific phenomena as, for example, Durkheim believed or is it also to some extent indicative of a transcendental or psychic synchronicity more in tune to Jung’s thinking. Or are both factors at work. I know that this is a subject in which strong opinions thrive on both sides of the philosophic divide. I highly recommend that attendees bring to this discussion examples and insights that help illustrate viewpoints concerning the scientific or transcendental nature of the collective mind, respectively: two fascinating and fundamental perspectives on the nature of reality.

Follow-up: I had a great time and enjoyed very much the different perspectives that were contributed. The subject of the collective mind is broad, especially given the way that the discussion was framed as two alternate universes, so to speak, of the “scientific” and the “transcendental” perspectives of a collective mind. The broadness of the topic had its pluses and minuses.

I do remember talking about pain and its importance in conceiving of consciousness. A computer, for example, cannot feel pain. Pain is a good example of a self being conscious of its consciousness as something distinct from material existence. At least that is my view.
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