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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ego consciousness

Last night I lay awake from 2:50 till the alarm went off at 5:30. I don't feel bad now, but the thoughts that keep me awake at night are not pleasant. It's always possible to see things in a negative light, and this seems to be what's happening during these dark periods when my mind is under the dominion of the moon.

In the morning, over coffee, I'm still on the trail of identity. Will I ever arrive? Will I find something that, to me, feels like an answer? I may not, but I would still like to have a theory, or maybe even a decent hypothesis, to work from.

I continue to trawl through The Origins and History of Consciousness. I'm now in Part II: The Psychological Stages in the Development of Personality. It's excellent, fascinating. The section I read last night, "Centroversion, Ego, and Consciousness", was so rich that I highlighted most of the text. Centroversion, a word coined by Neumann, refers to the tendency of an organism to stay intact and maintain itself; it is the same as the integrative function described by Arthur Koestler in his description of "holons" in The Ghost in the Machine. A holon (a term coined by Koestler himself) is any relatively integrated thing that functions both as a whole, when viewed from within from the perspective of its constituent parts, and as a part, when viewed from above from the larger thing of which it is a member. Organisms, including people, are holons, for we are made up of constituent parts, and are also parts of larger wholes above ourselves.

So centroversion is the integrative tendency we have as organisms, the unifying effect of all our subsystems working together to keep us alive. In Neumann's view, consciousness is "the control system of centroversion", and the ego is the central complex of the field of consciousness. He believes that consciousness arises when stimuli, outer and inner, become represented as images. The ego, which as far as I can tell is basically the consciousness of the organism as an independent individual self, arises only very gradually and painfully. Neumann makes the point that pain is key:

Pain and discomfort are among the earliest factors that build consciousness. They are "alarm-signals" sent out by centroversion to indicate that the unconscious equilibrium is disturbed. The function of ego consciousness, however, is not merely to perceive, but to assimilate these alarm signals, for which purpose the ego, even when it suffers, has to hold aloof from them if it is to react appropriately. The ego, keeping its detachment as the center of the registering consciousness, is a differentiated organ exercising its controlling function in the interests of the whole, but is not identical with it.

All very interesting, as is this:

We shall always find that fear of the unconscious, and fear in general, is a symptom of centroversion, seeking to protect the ego.

I keyed that whole section, then pulled down another book, this one from my dharma shelf: Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, a slim little volume I bought in April 1989 while on a month's meditation retreat at (what was then called) Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Colorado. I found this little book exciting, gripping, disturbing when I first read it, which was while I was down on that retreat.

But more of that perhaps another time. I'm eating into my teatime here--treading on sacred ground!

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  • I've been studying Neumann's work this weekend and found your blog entry. I find myself struggling to make sense of the term centroversion. As I am making sense of it now -- it is the force that maintains the center and the perimeter of a system, like our solar system which I think physicists credit gravity with centroversion.

    By Blogger DR BREN, at March 08, 2010 9:43 AM  

  • Hello--thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, maybe gravity is not a bad analogy. I think of centroversion as being basically identical with what we loosely call the survival instinct. The organism seeks to maintain its own integrity, and it does this on all levels from lowest to highest. At a low level, it would be represented by the autoimmune system, which distinguishes between self and other, and rejects the latter.

    At the top level, Neumannn seems to be saying, the level of consciousness, it's represented by the ego. At this level, the notion of "self" is conscious, and the actions of ego become deliberate in the service of centroversion.

    That's my take on it anyway. I think it's great that you're taking the trouble to engage with Neumann's ideas. Good luck.

    By Blogger paulv, at March 08, 2010 10:13 AM  

  • i've been studying Neumann for a year now-my understanding the of the term centroversion seems a bit different from yours. neumann has a lot of jungian influence so i can understand it from that perspective. as i see it centroversion is an urge towards wholeness, that is one who can both interact with one's inner world and one who can interact with one's outer world-its a fully concious and fully alive perspective and comes about through the conquering of one's fear of death. its the mid-point between introversion and extraversion-its a slow building up of and strenthing of one's "container". that is once you are a "centrovert" you become a clean/clear instrument of whatever it is you want to call the force that evolves world conciousness.

    By Blogger Christina, at May 21, 2010 8:11 PM  

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