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The Jungian Borg

January 6th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have been reading The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell, by way of introduction to Jung’s ideas. 

I have always been fascinated by Joseph Campbell and Campbell makes frequent reference to Jung and the notion of the collective unconscious, that the “universal similarity of human brains leads to the universal possibility of a uniform mental functioning.  This functioning being the collective psyche.” p95 Which in turn leads to the “interesting fact that the unconscious processes of the most widely separated people and races show a quite remarkable correspondence…in the extraordinary but well-authenticated analogies between the forms and motifs of autochthonous myths.” p94-5.  Thus Campbell’s book the Hero with a Thousand Faces and so forth.

But what really got me going on this subject this morning was that I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about human memory and computer memory and neural nets and moving the mind into a machine; partly based on strange dreams I’ve had, a screenplay I’m writing, and various pieces of non-fiction and science fiction that I’ve been reading.  The thought that got me going was the similarity between the notion of the Borg in Star Trek with the collective unconscious–rather, the Borg being a sort of mechanical incarnation of the idea of the collective unconscious: that is, one underlying level of intelligence that informs all collective “subscribers.”

I recently read the book The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, a read I highly recommend to anyone seeking intelligent, thoughtful notions of what technology, human ambition, and the future holds.  Kurzweil himself has spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about and detailing the future merging of human and machine intelligence–as well as the physical (virtual?) body.  At some point, for instance, the bionics implied by the The Six Million Dollar Man will not only not be out of the question but will be everyday facts.  Blind people will see and the deaf will hear via neural implants; human memory will be vastly augmented with neural implants that may very well contain the entire recorded history of humanity.

I was also thinking about the relationship between the function of myth and ritual in society and the collective unconscious and the social forces represented by the Borg in Star Trek The Next Generation.  After all, the function of myth is the oral or written representation of ritual and the function of ritual is to create the mythic “all-time, ever-where” in the present–the universally present moment, a sort of ontological trick of the drum-beaten, fire-lit eternal moment.  Specifically, the function of ritual is to make uniform the behavior of people in a society, so that all are “programmed” with the same written set of instructions and behaviors and directed toward a uniform goal.

This got me thinking about an Australian aboriginal ritual that I read about somewhere, in Iron John or Primitive Mythology or in The Golden Bough; hold on, I’ll look real quick…

Primitive Mythology p88 “The transformation of the child into the adult, which is achieved in higher societies through years of education, is accomplished on the primitive level more briefly and abruptly by means of the puberty rites that for many tribes are the most important ceremonies of their religious calendar.”  Why these rites are so important, what happens if they don’t occur, and how this deficiency is everywhere present in America is the subject of an entirely separate conversation.

In the ritual discussed here, I will paraphrase to spare you all, the essence is that the boy(s) undergo a ritual in which he is marked, usually physically (broken tooth, circumcision, etc.), so that he 1) can never be the same child that he was, and 2) so that he now physically is like or similar to the tribal hero or ancestor.  With the Central Australian Aranda, as Campbell points out, it is thought that “children born to women are the reappearances of beings who lived in the mythological age, in the so-called ‘dream time,’ or altjeringa…” the point being to expand the boy’s ego “beyond the biography of the physical individual…joining him to his eternal portion, beyond time.” p89  More specifically, and to my point, is this “in the ceremonials that he will presently observe the tasks proper to his manhood will in every detail be linked to mythological fantasies of a time-transcending order, so that not only himself but his whole world and his whole way of life within it will be joined inseparably, through myths and rites, to the field of the spirit.” p89

So, I was thinking how like in many respects the concept of the function of the Borg is to the function of myth and ritual, in that in seeks to emasculate the importance of the individual and elevate the importance of the group.  Necessary, certainly, in a tribal society where a group of selfish individuals would annihilate the entire fabric of the social group and destroy the whole society. The same thing is certainly true in our society, we simply benefit from numbers–that is, those who are adult and focused on group goals are able to compensate for those who are selfish and focused on individual aggrandizement and the onanistic pleasures that attend it.  In many ways this is why the concept of the Borg is so terrible, as the infantile mind reels at the notion of the ego-destruction that follows inevitably from such a group-focused notion.

Is it possible that all the ambitious dreams and inventions of a society founded on the notion of “rugged individualism” will likely lead to a technological future in which every mind is connected to a vast, centralized machine, a Borg-like collective (un)conscious that rules us all?

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