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Communicating through the “Collective Unconscious”

Communicating through the “Collective Unconscious”

Reading | Psychology

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Prof. Petrenko is back, and this time he shows that we may be regularly, though implicitly, using the so-called “collective unconscious”—a transpersonal field of subjectivity we all share, but which we can’t explicitly access through introspection—to tap into each other’s minds, minds in the animal kingdom as a whole, and perhaps even beyond.

Philosophers, linguists, and psychologists have all pointed out that the process of cognition requires some form of a language—a sign-system. Furthermore, according to L.S. Vygotsky, a sign-system is used as a tool to control one’s behavior and thoughts. Rational thinking is characterized by notions that provide clarity of awareness and produce writing, down to scientific concepts. But for the aspects of reality that we are less cognizant of, we use symbolic and poetic representations, dream images that create mythologemes, religious parables and prophecies. So it’s not surprising that Carl G. Jung was interested in the figurative and mythological realm and in the study of dreams. In the context of the problem of the unconscious, let us consider one of Jung’s most vivid dreams:

I was in a house I did not know, which had two stories. It was “my house.” I found myself in the upper story, where there was a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in Rococo style. On the walls hung a number of precious old paintings. I wondered that this should be my house, and thought, “Not bad.” But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like. Descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor. There everything was much older, and I realized that this part of the house must date from about the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The furnishings were medieval; the floors were of red brick. Everywhere it was rather dark. I went from one room to another, thinking, “Now I really must explore the whole house.” I came upon a heavy door and opened it. Beyond it, I discovered a stone stairway that led down into the cellar. Descending again, I found myself in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient. Examining the walls, I discovered layers of brick among the ordinary stone blocks, and chips of brick in the mortar. As soon as I saw this, I knew that the walls dated from Roman times. My interest by now was intense. I looked more closely at the floor. It was of stone slabs, and in one of these I discovered a ring. When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted, and again I saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading down into the depths. These, too, I descended, and entered a low cave cut into the rock. Thick dust lay on the floor, and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture. I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old and half disintegrated. Then I awoke [15].

An astonishing dream! Not even a dream, but downright the metaphorical summary of Jung’s concept of the unconscious. Usually, dreams are quite chaotic and poorly structured, but this one is a short, literary masterpiece. Perhaps geniuses, and Jung is undoubtedly one of them, tap into more structured aspects of the collective unconscious and, consequently, experience clearer and more logical dreams. Is that possibly the key to being a genius?

Jung’s dream illustrates one important point: at its depths, the unconscious has a cultural-European content. There is ancient Rococo furniture; then if we go deeper—the vaulted ceilings of a Roman house; and even deeper—there are layers of primitive culture with fragments of ancient pottery and two skulls. Sigmund Freud interpreted the presence of skulls as evidence of Jung’s unconscious death instinct, but Jung disagreed with it.

I would permit myself a different interpretation by suggesting that these are the mythological skulls of Adam and Eve, as we can observe this plot in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. There, according to the legend, Adam, the progenitor of the human race, was buried. Directly under Golgotha is the chapel of Adam, where you can see a crevice formed during an earthquake. Through this crevice, the blood of Jesus seeped with the rainwater and washed Adam’s skull.

I brought up this story to emphasize that the content of the collective unconscious tapped into by Jung’s mind is by no means universal for the entire human race. And the streams of the collective unconscious that the Hindus or Chinese, Persians or South American Indians tap into is filled with different archetypal images. If we move deeper into the evolutionary tree, we will even find layers of experience of our animal ancestors [38].

For example, Henry Bergson, in his brilliant book “Creative Evolution,” raised the issue of reception and transmission of holistic states at the level of the unconscious. He points to how a wasp paralyzes a caterpillar by a precise sting [5]. Bergson suggested that the wasp unmistakably finds the caterpillar’s ganglion not as a result of learning, which behaviorists later described as the development of a skill by ‘trial and error,’ but by directly sensing it, as if the caterpillar’s ganglion were inside the wasp. That is, by means of the wasp’s own psyche. Henri Bergson called this mechanism of cognition “creative intuition” and believed that it is inherent in all living beings because they share common ancestors. In modern psychology, intuition has a slightly different meaning related to transcending the boundaries of stereotypical thinking [60, 2]. Meanwhile, Bergson’s interpretation of intuition has remained practically undeveloped.

A Russian philosopher of the Silver Age, N.O. Lossky, explained the possibility of intuitive empathy by the coordination of “substantive subjects”—a kind of resonance of the souls of living beings. When it comes to human interaction, emotional closeness is the empathic tuning fork for mutual understanding.

So, psychologist A.G. Suleimanian examined the forms of telepathic communication between members of a primitive tribe based on the ethnographic research of the South African writer L.G. Green [69]. According to Green, the ‘smoke language’ of the African Bushmen and Australian aborigines, by means of which rather detailed messages are transmitted, is not a language in the proper sense of the word, since the amount of information transmitted is too high for such a primitive signaling system. Bonfires are only a trigger that urges the natives to tune in to receive a message. “I make a fire to let others know that I have already begun to think,” one Australian aborigine explained to the writer, “and they, too, begin to think until our thoughts coincide.” [69, 68]. Analyzing Green’s findings, Suleimanian compared them with those in the psychological literature on telepathy. He linked them to the natives’ ability for extreme concentration, also inherent in animals, and to the very close and intimate relationships between tribesmen. He also found that similar telepathic phenomena could apply to the so-called ‘civilized people’ in extraordinary circumstances. There is ample evidence that mothers experience seemingly unreasonable anxiety about children hundreds of kilometers away, and who, indeed, turn out to be in trouble at that time.

Humanistic psychology, and more specifically, group psychotherapy in the spirit of that of C.R. Rogers, developed methods of controlled empathy. As a result, a so-called altered state of consciousness is achieved: a peculiar nervous agitation, which at a certain moment simultaneously engulfs all the participants and is felt as a single field of tension. The participants reported a deep spiritual experience, a sense of the unified spirit of the group. They breathed together, felt together, even finished each other’s sentences, and felt the power of the ‘life force,’ whatever that might be, infusing everyone. The usual separation between ‘me’ and ‘you’ was erased. It was like a meditative experience in which everyone felt like the center of consciousness. And along with this extraordinary sense of unity, the real separateness of each person was so clearly preserved.

Unlike existentialist philosophy and humanistic psychology, which emphasize the value and unique essence of each individual, the Eastern Buddhist tradition cultivates the idea of moving away from the unique ‘self’ towards integration. This is similar to the ‘sobornost’ in Russian Christian Orthodox tradition, i.e., natural spiritual community. In Zen Buddhism, the actualization of the previous historical experience in human consciousness is connected to the idea of the illusory existence of an individual. It is described by the doctrine of ‘anattā,’ and by the idea of the unity of all living beings as incarnations of one Spirit.

The idea of the ‘creatable’ spatial-temporal world, which alone makes history possible, and contrasting it with the supra-spatial and supra-temporal ‘I’—the  “substantive subject” in Lossky’s terms—is also inherent in Russian religious and near-religious philosophy of being.

“Since the ‘subject’ is supra-temporal and supra-spatial,” Lossky wrote, proceeding from the idea of the immortality of the soul,

its coordination with objects is not due to spatial proximity and coexistence in time; it is the connection of the ‘subject’ with the world, which stands above any spatial and temporal fragmentation. Therefore, knowledge about things that are far from my present life in time is possible. On that basis, an intuitive theory of memory can be developed, according to which, recollection—is an intentional act directed by the ‘subject’ through the abyss of time directly to an event experienced or perceived yesterday or even 20-30 years ago; at the same time, the act of recollection is the present event, and what is remembered—the past in the original once again present in mind. [21]

In any case, regardless of possible interpretations, the idea of a historical memory of all events and all deeds of humanity as a whole, as well as separate individuals, deserves attention. At least from the point of view of psychotherapy, it would provide an infinite memory of our entire existence, if not personal immortality. The following insights could serve as arguments in favor of this idea. According to A.R. Luria, individual memory contains almost all the events that happened during a lifetime. J.M.R. Delgado’s brain electro-stimulation experiments allowed him to assert that “neurons retain a complete record of past events, including all sensory information: visual, auditory, proprioceptive, etc., as well as the emotional tone of events.” [9] Equally congruent are the results of B.M. Velichkovsky’s experiments to determine the capacity of the long-term visual memory, and hypnotic experiments on extracting past events from the passive memory. The memory of the Universal Consciousness or the Universe, which has been evolving for billions of years, could very well contain mechanisms to capture and store all the information about everything that has happened. To recall M.A. Bulgakov’s practically religious prophecy from his novel “The Master and Margarita”: “Manuscripts don’t burn.”

Of course, according to Occam’s principle of parsimony that “entities should not be multiplied without necessity,” in science such an assumption ought to be eliminated. Yet the natural-scientific paradigm of linear time does not accommodate ‘lucid dreams,’ premonitions and prophecies, sensations of the presence of other personalities within oneself, i.e., being demon-possessed, or the paradoxical feeling of sensing the unexpressed suffering of others.

The existence of high-quality historical novels, which describe with amazing authenticity the mindset of people from the distant past, is a case in point. We do not yet know through what means of creative empathy writers such as A.S. Pushkin, T. Mann, L. Feuchtwanger or L.N. Tolstoy tap into these historical mental egregores. Presumably, in our subconscious there are not only Jungian collective archetypes, experimentally unproven but widely used in theoretical constructs, but also other forms of evolutionary memory and historical experience. A key to accessing the ‘genetic’ memory of humanity [29, 70, 14, 19, 10, 16, 67] may lie in various forms of altered states of consciousness and, in particular, meditation [7, 1]. By directing our awareness within, by realizing the call of the ancient philosophers: “Know thyself,” and by performing a kind of ‘mental archeology,’ we can find a different path to knowing history.

Such intuition is also present during hypnosis sessions, such as the treatment of one particular patient with anorexia nervosa and bulimia [42, 43]. The patient went to a ballet school in her youth, and while remaining graceful and slim, she nonetheless complained about her body. As it turned out during the hypnotherapy, she experienced a psychological trauma when her ballet partner caught her eating cakes, which were strictly forbidden. Since he needed to lift her up during the dance, he called her ‘a fat cow’ and slapped her. As a result of this incident, the young girl experienced severe stress, which manifested itself, in particular, in her inability to get pleasure and satiation from food. So, to eliminate the consequences of bulimia, being the result of an explicit social prohibition of satiety, V.A. Kucherenko hypnotically placed the patient in social situations different from ordinary life, in which social prohibitions against enjoying food would not apply. He immersed her in a Roman festive dining, then in a Russian lordly feast. But every time, there were circumstances that prevented the patient from enjoying her food.

It is typical for a neurotic to imagine a situation in dreams or in a hypnotic vision in such a way that the situation leads to the usual failure. For example, during imaginary skiing, he or she will certainly crash into a tree; while imagining being a mighty animal, he or she is bound to see it with a sore paw or bald patches on the skin.

Our patient was placed in a situation of hunting among a primitive tribe that had slaughtered a mammoth, but she again suffered a setback. A piece of steaming, juicy ‘mammoth meat,’ roasted on the fire, was suddenly and rudely taken away from her by a hulk of a man in animal skin. Our patient could only whimper pitifully of an undeserved grievance.

It was only when Kucherenko ‘placed’ her in the body of a prehistoric animal, the Pterodactylus, that the patient was able to experience the joy of satiation. She felt the exhilaration of free flight, and a feeling of a predator controlling its territory. Gliding on webbed wings down on some giant frog, she tore it open and, for the first time, satiated herself with its flesh. So, being in the body of the animal, deprived of human norms and prohibitions, the social inhibitor was finally removed, and the patient enjoyed the pleasure of eating food. Since then, she began to make a good recovery. But what interests us in this case is not the psychotherapy, but another aspect of the study: where does the knowledge of the flight experience of a fossil animal come from in the psyche of a modern person?

It seems that a human being remembers not only the personal unconscious, and not only the collective unconscious of their own race and species, but even the unconscious of the previous evolutionary stages. A Russian scientist B.M. Velichkovsky, a well-known expert in the field of cognitive psychology, writes:

At the early stages of evolutionary development one or another type of awareness prevailed. The most primitive form was considered ambient (spatial) awareness, which, as we know from paleoneurology, first appeared in the most ancient reptiles, the dinosaurs, and is associated with the localization of objects in space <…> The conclusion is that the human body has the capacity of perception, built in as early as at the dawn of evolution. [71]

Equally shocking is the discovery of knowledge during the hypnotherapy that seemed to have been acquired from some sources other than the individual learning it. In Kucherenko’s alcoholism treatment program, patients were induced not only to fear the use of alcohol but were also given many positive experiences to boost a person’s self-esteem [46]. Patients ‘flew into space,’ ‘bathed in the waves of the ether,’ etc., and one of them reported being surprised by seeing sharp, dotty and very bright stars when he ‘was flying’ in the starry sky. Indeed, in the absence of Earth’s atmosphere, and consequently air diffraction, stars are not as blurred as they look from the ground. It is unlikely that our patients could have known what they look like from space, although they may have heard about it in some popular science program. But if this factor is ruled out, such cases suggest the possibility of acquiring information which is not in any way related to direct life experiences. Perhaps there is a single mechanism for retrieving knowledge from the collective unconscious?

But let’s return to the Buddhist teaching lineages, whereby personal ‘transmissions’ from a teacher is key. In Russian psychology a similar phenomenon of the influence of the teacher’s personality on the student’s success was studied by V.A. Petrovsky [57, 58].

Students had to take exams under varied conditions assessing their performance. In one case, a portrait of a teacher ‘popular’ with the students was placed on the wall. In the other, a portrait of a ‘disliked’ teacher was hanging instead. Both samples of students were of equal proficiency level. So, the students with the portrait of their ‘favorite teacher,’ discreetly visible on the wall, were much more successful than the students with the ‘unloved teacher’ in the same classroom. Petrovsky called the influence of an important role-model on the success of creative work the phenomenon of ‘subject reflection’.

Following this logic, portraits of people important to us or icons of revered saints should have a positive effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being, and not only in the field of education. These images and even literary characters, which we have come into contact with at least once in our lives, remain forever in the personal or even in the collective unconscious, and the only problem is to extract this information [61, 24].

The individual and collective unconscious have another shocking characteristic: they have no spatial and temporal coordinates, unlike consciousness, which is object-determined. Let us be reminded that I. Kant considered the categories of space and time not as fundamental ontological dimensions of being but as intuitions of consciousness. In classical philosophy the intentionality of consciousness, i.e., its orientation towards the object-based world, is regarded as the most important property of consciousness. And the very process of categorizing object-based reality implies spatial and temporal references, while for the unconscious there is neither time nor space.

The joint work of C.G. Jung the psychologist and W.E. Pauli the physicist mentioned the idea of the commonality of the quantum world and the collective unconscious, as well as the assumption that the phenomenon of synchronicity, described by Jung, has an analogy in quantum physics [15, 20].

A number of our publications describe the EPR phenomenon in quantum physics, named after the scientists who formulated it—Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen [51, 52, 53, 54]. It was referred to in discussions of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr as something ‘that cannot be,’ but later was confirmed by research. It is as follows: the object is described as a superposition of possible states prior to the subject’s perception of it, and awareness of the measurement result. According to Heisenberg, observable properties of elementary particles do not exist before their measurement, which brings them into existence [13]. Disintegration of an object leads to formation of at least two objects with ‘entangled’ (interconnected) states, because conservation laws act in such a way that a certain cumulative constant is preserved. Furthermore, superluminal speeds of ‘influence transfer’ lead to violation of the causality principle and open possibilities of instantaneous teleportation of states. Experiments of A. Aspect [3] and J. Bell [4] empirically confirmed this phenomenon of ‘non-locality’ of being in the quantum world.

For example, R. Penrose writes:

As long as quantum entanglement does not break, we, strictly speaking, cannot consider any object in the Universe to be separate and independent. <…> No one can truly explain, without going beyond the standard theory, why it is not at all necessary for us to represent the Universe as a single whole, this incredibly complex tangle that has nothing to do with the classical-looking world that we actually observe. [34]

This particular version of the Unity of Being suggests that the phenomena of synchronicity, foresight and telepathy are grounded in the physics of the quantum world. Also, the outstanding Russian psychophysiologist E.N. Sokolov [65] shared the idea of S. Hameroff and R. Penrose [12] regarding the existence of neural microtubules at the molecular level in the human brain, which enables the brain to work as a kind of quantum computer.

The idea of non-locality of existence and the phenomenon of quantum entanglement leads to another fundamental hypothesis. Namely, the search for fellow extraterrestrial intelligence, as well as the analysis of possible signals from space, is an extrapolation of our current state of technology to the hypothetical capabilities of other intelligent civilizations. These civilizations could possibly even be ahead of us in cosmic evolution. And making contact, if it has not already taken place at a level accessible to the human psyche, may be accomplished through deep meditation or the practice of other altered states of consciousness. After all, principles of non-locality of existence and phenomena like EPR, which make evident the absence of space and time categories in quantum physics, and psychological phenomena such as  synchronicity, if not reduced to determinism, suggest some other forms of connectivity. They open a hypothetical, yet possible form of ‘information transmission’. And this transmission would not be in the form of text or even an explicit ‘transmission’ itself, but through synchronous, instantaneous resonance of states, like the psychic states of living beings.

Summarizing the above, several initial conclusions can be made. A promising direction in psychology is to explore the personal and the collective unconscious, which can be approached through the creation of holistic interdisciplinary theoretical models that include, as a consequence, the realization of unique case studies of individuals. Human consciousness is space-time bound and framed by a system of meanings, not only verbal, but also perceptual standards. The collective unconscious, on the other hand, has a different nature—being outside of time and space. There is a direct analogy between the methodology of quantum physics—such phenomena as EPR, non-locality of existence and its systemic connectivity—and the methodology of the unconscious, including the phenomena of synchronicity, telepathy and foresight. Humanity, and hence psychology as a science of the human psyche, is on the threshold of global polyfurcation (see ‘2045 Initiative’), including reaching R. Kurzweil’s singularity’ or ‘Snooks-Panov vertical’ [33]. Such processes are related to the transition from purely earthly evolution to the cosmic one and entail contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.

 

*Part of the lecture given during the ‘Winter Psychology School’ in St. Petersburg in 2020.

 

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Contact with universal consciousness through the research of human mentality

Contact with universal consciousness through the research of human mentality

Reading | Psychology

Petrenko UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS

One of the most respected psychologists in the Slavic world—where materialist prejudices are less pronounced—Prof. Victor Petrenko, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, discusses his views on the nature of mind and reality. He shows, through remarkable experiments, that our very perception is conditioned upon our ability to tell ourselves, conceptually, what we are perceiving. It is possible that we simply do not perceive what we have no conceptual categories to make sense of. This way, we may be immersed in effectively alien aspects of reality that we cannot cognize. This captivating essay introduces to a Western audience the high-quality—and arguably less metaphysically biased—scholarship of the Slavic world in an area of knowledge whose relevance to our lives cannot be overestimated.

Since its establishment as an experimental science, psychology has gravitated in its cognition towards the Cartesian subject-object paradigm, in which the role of the object has been attributed to the “research subject”—a person—to be studied by objectively measurable methods. And since such methods are scarcely applicable to the inner, spiritual and social life of an individual, the research has been restricted to studying simple physiological reactions, associative processes, and patterns of perception of simple objects. Thus, methods of self-observation and introspection fell by the wayside in psychology. Only with the arrival of psychoanalysis did a branch of science emerge—parallel to the mainstream—that brought forth humanistic and transpersonal psychology, focusing on first-person spiritual experiences.

More recently, however, there has been increasing focus on holistic systems of being and processes that include the human personality as a subsystem in the relationship between human beings, environment, society, history, science, art and spiritual values. And the higher the level of holistic systems is examined, the more complex and less understood are the mechanisms of the regulation and development of the complex whole, in which a human being is embedded.

For example, V. Vernadsky’s speaks of the biosphere and human civilization being a geological factor in the evolution of the Earth’s crust, but also of the reverse influence of geomorphological processes and cataclysms on the emerging noosphere—the realm of human mind. This line of thinking was continued by A. Nazaretyan [36, 38] and V. Panov [41] in the analysis of technogenic crises caused by the disruption of the moral and technological balance, and the impact of the spiritual state of society on nature and industrial progress.

Both the positive and destructive influences of unconscious processes on human psychosomatics are well researched and documented in psychology. And according to religious systems, not just deeds, but evil thoughts alone, influence a human being’s spiritual and physical well-being. Through acts of self-contemplation and repentance we can perhaps experience that influence first-hand. However, all these levels of interrelatedness in complex systems, in which the human being is a constituent part, are poorly studied, reflected or represented in a conceptual psychological framework.

To remain in the field of science rather than religion or art, two comprehensive strategies are possible. The first one is when we adhere strictly to the paradigm of natural sciences and operate with notions underpinned by readily observable phenomena, at the risk of reducing the whole to its fragments. As a result, we would remain blind to the multidimensionality and multi-levelness of the world; for a successfully functioning individual in the everyday life could, at the same time, be bare and helpless against extraordinary existential problems of life and death, or the meaning of life and faith. An alternative strategy would be to construct concepts containing ‘room for growth,’ whereby we accept a degree of uncertainty and gaps in our knowledge. One such notion that could enter the theoretical framework of psychology is the concept of fate, for it has a rich mythological tradition, a complex symbolic representation and a vivid history of conscious expression through artistic means.

Calculations independently carried out by the Russian theoretical astrophysicist A. Panov [40] and the Australian historian-globalist G. Snooks showed a steady acceleration of development across the geomorphological, biological and noospheric stages of the Earth’s evolution. The so-called ‘Snooks-Panov vertical’ revealed a zone of singularity whereby, by about 2045, the curve of the rate of evolution rushes to infinity. What will ensue then: perhaps the end of humanity or, on the contrary, the emergence of the immortal superhuman? Perhaps, given the development of communications technology, humanity will merge into a single super-entity—a kind of earthly version of S. Lem’s “Solaris”?

It seems, however, that the 24-year period from the present day to the hypothetical singularity zone is too short of a time for our transformation into neo-humanity. One possible hypothesis accounting for the phenomenon of singularity could be contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence, which stands to give our civilization access to truly boundless information sources and new treasures of knowledge. What contradicts this hypothesis, however, is the so-called ‘Great Silence of Space’: the absence of reliable signals from our fellow ET ‘brothers in mind.’ Here, perhaps, examples from zoo-psychology and cultural anthropology can provide some insight.

Every living being builds an inner image—a mental model of the world—limited by the perceptual capabilities of its psyche. The higher up the evolutionary ladder it is, the more complicated its image of the world becomes [28]. For example, a mosquito will lay its eggs both on the shiny surface of water—which is biologically appropriate—and on the shiny surface of glass—which is biologically inadequate. A frog, though being higher up the evolutionary ladder, does not have a sufficient degree of neuronal differentiation to distinguish a slow-moving snake from rocks and branches on the forest floor. Such inadequate biologically behavior is due simply to insufficient complexity of cognitive maps, a limited mental representation of the world.

Certainly, the world of a frog is extremely primitive compared to that of a human. But we, too, are limited in our perception by the individual systems of meaning available to us. We mentally construct a representation of the world, which allows us to become aware of it, but only to the extent determined by that very frame of reference we created.

There is an interesting phenomenon of human perception and awareness observed in a study done together with a colleague and student, V. Kucherenko: if you instruct a research subject in a hypnotic state not to see, for example, cigarettes, the subject indeed stops seeing them. Even after coming out of the trance state, when asked to list the items on a table, he or she cannot see not only loose cigarettes, but also an ashtray full of cigarette butts and a pack of cigarettes. The same goes for a lighter, since it is associated with the process of lighting a cigarette. And whenever the subject could see the lighter or a related item, he or she could still not identify it, reporting instead: “Some strange cylinder… I don’t understand… It must be from Validol medication.” Clearly, the mental function related to the forbidden object and other objects associated with it was inhibited, and a whole semantic field of those objects dropped out of perception. It is as if the actions ‘to look’ and ‘to see’ were split up: the research subject saw these objects but was not aware of them due to the hypnotic suggestion.

We investigated systematically the influence of emotions on categorization processes; how certain emotional states changed the internal thesaurus; how semantic spaces were transformed with the emergence of those emotions. We induced, through hypnosis, such simple emotional states as fear, euphoria, guilt, etc., and then watched how the person’s system of associations changed. When confronted with a state that came upon them out of the blue, some people would produce fictional stories to match those states. For example, someone with the induced feeling of guilt explained his condition this way: “During the experiment, someone cheekily opened the door and looked in. I punched him in the eye. It was awkward in a way.” At the end of the experiment, the hypnotist naturally ‘erased’ the induced condition and suggested a pleasant neutral mood, after which the research subject was happy to come back for subsequent sessions.

In the course of this experiment, a kind of matrix was formed, which we then evaluated by using factor and cluster analysis, to see how the semantic spaces were transformed by certain emotions. Using Vygotsky’s terms, we investigated the relationship between “affect and intellect.” Emotional experiences affect, and spiritual experiences play an enormous role in, human perception of the world. Like crooked mirrors, they transform the picture of the world by adding and removing certain fragments.

Here is a prime example from a study I conducted together with V. Kucherenko during the off-site psychological vacation school at Moscow State University. Students lived in a two-person room. A roommate of one of the study participants was interested in observing the hypnosis procedure. To ensure that our research subject would not be distracted by an additional person in the room, we made a hypnotic suggestion precluding him from seeing his roommate. The ‘invisible’ roommate got bored at some point and decided to shave, since he thought that, due to being ‘invisible,’ he could do whatever he wanted. The moment he turned the electric shaver on, our research subject became completely perplexed: he heard the sound that came from the shaver, but he could not see his roommate or the device. Judging by the look on his face, he seemed to be tormented by the incomprehensibility of the situation. Then he stood up and took a few steps toward the source of the sound. The sight of the somnambulist was peculiar enough, so his ‘invisible’ roommate jumped frightened from his seat. The research subject stopped literally a few centimeters from his roommate and fell into a deep trance. Thus, a logical contradiction arose, the collateral result of which was a state of trance: the subject seemed to see his roommate, since he did not try to pass through him; yet, he did not see him, since he could not figure out the source of the noise.

We explain this contradiction through the separation of ‘seeing’ from ‘perceiving.’ So, according to Hegel’s philosophy, in sensations or emotions subject and object are merged, and there is no epistemic opposition between them. But when we express a feeling through symbols—as in language—we commit an act of estrangement from what we directly experience. In this form of symbolic representation, the original experience can be transmitted to another in an act of communication, or to oneself in the form of intra-personal communication, and thus becomes perceived [6]. Consciousness, in this interpretation, is a secondary perception in a semiotic or symbolic form. What can be expressed in a form of a language—understood broadly as a system of meaning in the context of human cultural and historical experience—can be cognized.

Concerning the case of the ‘invisible’ roommate, the research subject saw the ‘forbidden object’—i.e., his roommate—but was not able to become aware of him, because the system of meaning associated with the forbidden object was blocked by the hypnotic suggestion. This conclusion was also supported by our other experiments, in which a hypnotic suggestion led not only to the phenomenon of non-perception, but also blocked both the meaning of the ‘forbidden’ object and a number of other related meanings.

Experiments have also revealed that awareness requires some kind of language through which the very process of awareness occurs. And the more formalized this language is, the clearer, but narrower, in semantic scope is the awareness. So, the language of the unconscious, containing images and symbols, which allows a broad interpretation of what is being perceived, is characterized by a low degree of awareness. Thus, conscious perception of anything requires specific perceptual organs for acquiring information and cognitive structures responsible for recognizing and interpreting it; it depends on the presence of a system of meaning—a kind of language, understood in a broad semiotic sense.

Coming back to the problem of the ‘Great Silence of Space.’ As we know, our bodies contain heavy elements—for example, iron in red blood cells—which originated in distant supernova explosions and were then carried by comets to different parts of the universe, including our solar system. In fact, according to the theory of panspermia by H. Richter and H. von Helmholtz, life itself has a cosmic origin and is transmitted through a kind of cosmic relay from earlier sources. Also, scientists like F. Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe claim that interstellar dust particles contain frozen cells and bacteria [5].

Undoubtedly, it took billions of years for evolution to transform these cosmic embryos of life into highly organized living organisms, possessing a psyche. But if life has a cosmic origin, then it is quite logical to assume that human consciousness, too, developed in the course of cultural-historical evolution, with some kind of involvement of an omnipresent universal mind.

But then why the Great Silence? It is naive to expect that possible alien civilizations are at approximately the same level of development as we are; that they would send us some signals, and that earthlings would successfully decode them; that aliens would arrive in spaceships, perhaps even more advanced than ours, and would make friendly contact.

Over the past 300 years, the Earth’s civilization has undergone unprecedented technological development. And taking into account the acceleration rate shown by the calculations of Snooks and Panov, it is difficult to even imagine what heights our civilization will reach in the near future. Still, 300 years is just a fraction of a moment by cosmic standards.

Cosmonaut S. Krichevsky, who collected interesting evidence of altered states of consciousness during space flights, confidently spoke about how space would be conquered by human beings, that our nearest descendants would settle on other planets in our solar system, and that we would become a space civilization. However, it’s more likely that possible contact with extraterrestrial civilizations will be of a very different kind.

We could start by searching for contact with other worlds in our own mental states; in the sphere of the unconscious, in meditative trance states, and psychology and semiotics can play an important role there. In our recent publications [43, 45] we try to substantiate our opinion that, operationally, human consciousness is anchored in the subject-object paradigm dating back to Descartes, where space and time are present as categories of consciousness or, according to Kant, intuitions of consciousness.

Consciousness, broadly understood as the ability to feel, experience and sense, may have a cosmic origin. In its background forms, it can act as a tuning fork of the Universe, thus evolving and diversifying in earthly conditions to the level corresponding to human consciousness. If the hypothesis of pre-existing consciousness is true, then our ‘brothers in mind’ can be searched not only by launching probes and telescopes into space, but also by meditating, directing awareness inward, deep into our own consciousness, accessing the archetypes of collective and, possibly, universal unconsciousness. This is precisely what the adepts of Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as the practitioners of Sufism and Hesychasm, did, and the difference lies only in the concepts describing the various religious experiences.

The practices of science and religion converge here. The history of religion is imbued with the experience of ‘peak’ states of consciousness [31, 12, 61], which psychology is just coming to understand scientifically. The idea of a pre-existing universal consciousness can be found in Hinduism, whereby the universal consciousness precedes the individual one. While being the underlying background, universal consciousness acts as a ‘carrier wave’ on the basis of which more separate individual consciousnesses form. W. James compared the interrelationship of individual consciousnesses to the roots of trees intertwined in the subterranean darkness, or to the ocean floor that connects the islands to one another. It’s also possible that there is a continuum of universal consciousness in which our divided minds are immersed.

Individual consciousness is restricted, presumably, to avoid possible overload and nervous breakdowns in adapting to the environment. Individual self-awareness—the mechanisms of self-identity—cut the individual off from other people’s consciousness and experiences, which nonetheless sometimes breakthrough in instances of telepathy, hypnosis or synchronicity. B. Porshnev’s hypothesis also supports this interpretation, whereby the emergence of natural languages was due to the need for protection from outside influences by means of a language barrier [49].

In order to consciously perceive something, it is necessary to have peripheral sensory organs, cognitive schemes and standards of recognition. Furthermore, to be aware of what is perceived, it is also necessary to have a certain language—understood in a broad semiotic sense—such as the languages of art. For lack of a number of specific sense organs for perceiving certain stimuli from the outside world, the human psyche contains a number of blind spots. For example, it does not perceive electromagnetic radiation in the range of ultraviolet, including X-rays and gamma rays. It is also insensitive to static magnetic fields and neutrino radiation. In addition, human perception is limited with respect to fast-flowing and super-slow processes.

But apart from the work of the peripheral organs, the process of perception includes the regulating role of cognitive structures of the brain (cf. N. Bernstein [7], P. Anokhin [4]). In scientific terms, these physiological control mechanisms [2] have corresponding perceptual standards, cognitive maps, cognitive schemas, meaning systems and semantic spaces. If the latter two are blocked or underdeveloped, it leads to ‘blindness’ of perception. Different psychological and other forms of training can be used to expand perception, such as: sensitivity training, meditation [9, 56, 8, 39] and auto-training [50, 54], yoga [21, 51, 55], Holotropic breathing [17, 24], methods of sensorimotor psychosynthesis [46,47], hypnosis [53] and soft Eriksonian hypnosis [10], different religious practices, dynamic meditation in the form of monotonous body movements or repetition of mantras, texts having a sacred meaning [19, 18], fasting, prayer [62], contemplation [1, 23, 52], seclusion [11] and retreat [57].

Psycho-practices and meditation not only lower the thresholds of sensitivity, opening up areas previously inaccessible to sensations and inner experiences, but, most importantly, they expand consciousness by removing the subject-object opposition and merging individual consciousness with the universal, transpersonal or divine, if you like.

Some clarification is due here. In philosophy, the concept of consciousness is interpreted broadly, including all the human mental manifestations. However, in psychology, since Freud’s times, it has been common to separate the concepts of ‘the conscious’ and ‘the unconscious,’ whereby the latter includes all we perceive but are unconscious of [3]. According to A. Luria [30], we remember practically everything we have seen during our whole life, which is confirmed empirically by the psycho-technique of passive information extraction [25, 26], whereby the patient can remember, for example, what sandals he or she wore at the age of 2 or the number plate of a car that accidentally caught his or her eye many months ago. In the hypnotic trance state, like in a slow-motion movie, one can see in the mind the moving car and have time to read its number plate if, of course, it was accessible to one’s vision at the moment of primary perception. One can zoom in and out, change the angle, scroll forward and backward in time, i.e., work with it as with the actually perceived object rather than a passive photograph. But in order to grasp what was retrieved from passive memory storage one needs a language, for both the hypnotic suggestion and the described image retrieved from the memory are communicated by means of language. The language of the unconscious, however, opens up an extremely wide range of interpretations. The choice of one or another interpretation of a dream, for example, resembles the process of collapse of the wave-function in physics [42, 32]. The history of the ancient world gives us vivid examples of the Delphic oracles who, in trance under the influence of psychotropic drugs, interpreted the images of their own unconscious in vague utterances. They made obscure and ambiguous prophecies. There is a widely known example of such misinterpreted prophecy: “If a king crosses the river Halys, he will destroy a great empire.” King Croesus of Lydia, preparing for war, misinterpreted this prophecy as a favorable prediction, and as a result he destroyed his own kingdom.

The translation from the language of the unconscious—which uses images and symbols, and presumably contains information about extra-terrestrial intelligence—into a common language requires the development of understanding [64], the analysis of the semantics of images and semiotic research of symbols [29] and the development of the field of psycho-semantics of art [44].

Perhaps the psychology of art, and in particular semiotics of music, will be the Ariadne’s thread that will bring researchers in contact with space. No less important an area for establishing such contact is comparative religion, which studies concrete personal realizations of the transpersonal ‘calls of space.’ The study of altered states of consciousness [60, 27, 58, 15] and transpersonal psychology [16, 17, 33, 34, 60, 13, 20, 24] are also essential in this context.

The race and competition between countries in the field of atomic physics in the twentieth century will be replaced in the twenty-first century by cooperation and collaboration in the humanities, primarily in the fields of psychology, post-non-classical philosophy [59], structural linguistics and semiotics. Contact with extra-terrestrial civilizations, predicted presumably around 2045, will cause an explosion of research problems in the field of humanities, and psychology will emerge as the ‘queen of sciences’ for a certain period of universal history. Also, by devising a specific system of meaning that is not tied to our concrete world on the one hand, and, on the other, by developing sophisticated meditation techniques and psycho-practices, we may come into contact with probable other worlds at deep meditative levels.

 

* An extended version of this essay was first published in Russian: Petrenko V.F. (2016) Contact with Universal Consciousness through the Research of Human Mentality. Social Sciences and Modernity, No. 5, pp. 142-155.

 

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