Electric Dreams

The Digital Archetype: Discussions from the C.G. Jung Bulletin Board

Richard Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard (2002).  The Digital Archetype: Discussions from the C.G. Jung Bulletin Board.  Electric Dreams 9(7).  2002 Vol. 9 Issue 5.

# 9b The Digital Archetype: Discussions from the C.G. Jung Bulletin Board.  - Richard Wilkerson 

Various myths and gods have been suggested as a way to understand the archetype that most deeply informs the emerging new paradigms brought out by the Internet. Robert Bosnak has suggested Mercury, not only for his relations with commerce and communications, but also his somewhat adolescent, boy-like qualities, which were the first large group of people to start surfing the Net. 

My general intuition is that the digital archetype is a newcomer, or a emerging archetype that has shown up here and there in history, but generally has been lying dormant.  

Initially I considered a god like Janus or other two-faced gods, but this doesn't really get at my intuition of the digital revolution. Yes, it is dual, but not really on and off, rather opposed faces. Also, there is for me something beyond the discrete on-off that has become essential, which I will address in a moment. Still, the digital vs analog issue needs to be addressed.  

   The reason binary works so well in computer chips is that we can assign a value to nothing or off (=0) and assign a value to something or on (=1).  

  Theoretically this forces the universe, at the level of the chip, into discreet rather than continuous parts. True, we can build up to a point where things become continuous again, but unlike our natural view of the world, we start now with the *abstract* and build towards the *concrete*.  There is no reason I can see to theoretically exclude abstractness from archetypal, (see for example Hillman's discussions of the distance of Apollo)  but I think that it might be better to see abstractness, mathematics, geometry, grid-thinking as included a little in every archetype's pantheon. Apollo has his own style of abstractness, and Hephestos (tools) has his, and even Venus has hers (love of generality),  and so on. In this sense, abstractness is a grid-thinking, grid-acting part  or aspect of all reality, limited as it is. But when we come to the point where our egos are stripped silly by the experience of abstract binary networks, its is here were the abstract becomes unlimited and we come up against the archetypal core and encounter something which I have yet to hear anybody name, there is just shaking and trembling.  

What shakes out is the new archetype's pantheon of sub-gods, demons, satyrs, saints and minions which are more visible and approachable.  Here I see generally the unique realm of the digital *virtual*.    

Virtual?  Lets make this simple first. You and I decide to play tic-tac-toe without a board, just in our minds. We can do this by agreeing on the same protocol, calling the rows 1-3 and the columns a-c. We play in virtual space.  In fact, it could be said that the virtual exists where any distributed set of rules can interact.  And we don't even have to have all the rules be the same.  The Catholic Church creates an immense virtual reality, a realm in which people can immerse themselves in a kind of shared-imaginary.  Once seen this way, we can see that the virtual is a kind of mutual imagination that exists everywhere. With computers, we simply have a computer mediated virtual reality. But there is something a little different…. 

So let's assume for a moment that the digital virtual is this new archetypes realm. (or the digital virtual realm is a sub-realm of the god/dess of Virtuality) .  Taking a quick tour of this realm I see: 

-- The original and the model coincide like they never have before. With other gods, the birth of these children give to the universe, for better or worse, something new. In the virtual digital world, everything is based on digital discreetness and therefore duplicatable down to the last byte. Hence this Deity shakes up and puts fear into capital enterprises that are based on duplication and its control - as we have seen in the music and movie industry. There is no difference between child one and child one million and one.  

-- For humans, bless our lost souls, this means we will be spending more and more time with models of reality rather than reality itself. This has already happened in fact, as I'm sure someone will call me on this and say "What do you mean by reality?"  We no longer can agree on this, its lost, distributed across the globe so that each individual must decide for him/herself. But the self has itself become divided, seen as polyvocal, heterogeneous, a swarm of identities, many of which contradict and conflict with one another. It takes tens of thousands of dollars per person to get them through analysis and resuscitate an alignment with the Self.  And so each person has multiple realities as well. Like a fractal bomb, the division of the self into multiplicities is accelerating towards the speed of light. Soon speed itself will become a value and the society will spin into orbit. It already has in many sectors, as we can see in the global economic restructuring that is laying old empires to rest and replacing them overnight with free market competition.  

No reason to morn the loss of humankind, the Virtual god loves this. Money is abstract and turns all values from quality to quantity. Everything is valued according to its market value. Libido is stripped from the tribe, from the family, from the king, the pharaoh, the gods, the soul and recoded on the back of capital.  Once abstract, it can flow in digitally mediated reality.

  I don't want to sound like this is a Marxist critique. This capital stripping of values means I don't have to do what my father did, and I don't have to believe what my family believes and I don't have to worship the gods my city worships. My point is rather that this Virtual archetype, this Digital Deity, will be gathering up the pieces torn asunder and re-distributing them across a new horizon, one that is going to look quite different than the world we were used to.  In this sense, Jungians and dreamworkers are in the right place as the right time to take on the new tasks of living in virtual reality.  It will be more like a dream world. Object and subject will collapse and everything, everything, will be interactive. Just as all parts of the dream may be seen as parts of our Self, or self, all parts of the new digitally mediated world will be parts of selves as well.  

Don't be fooled by watching the news and hearing how the society can control the Internet. Napster was an archaic attempt that had one foot in the digital virtual and one foot in the old regime.  As long as there is one foot in the old regime, it can be cut off. The new paradigm will be more like Gnutella based programs that exist *only* in cyberspace, doing what they do with little recourse to any particular computer, any particular person, any particular group.  

And this is a key point of the new archetype, that there is a distribution, an explosion, an infection, a deployment, an unchecked reproduction of binary machines that have no functional connection to biologically based life what-so-ever.  From a Jungian point of view, we might say that not only have signs won out against the symbolic, but now no longer need the creatures that gave birth to them. The swarm of signs that were originally produced by the earth, by the societies that rose up out of the earth and on the earth, have now reached such a velocity that they have taken orbit above and beyond the human.  

Again, we panic as body, flesh & blood based creatures. This is almost like a taboo that we cannot look directly at.  But then one could never look directly at the core of an archetype and survive.  

But lets assume that the Self does know,  and not only ~looks~ directly at the core, but continually ~aligns~ the core of the Digital Virtual archetype, along with all the others, to itself.  And if so, that our dreams are continually playing with this digital evolution.  

It is interesting to me that computer dreams ~don't~ seem to follow the statistical pattern of traditional machine dreams.  Content analysis of dreams shows that we typically have problems with machines in dreams. For all that machines have done in raising our standard of living, one would think we could be more grateful. But this isn't so, and we can't get our cars to steer right, our brakes to work, our phones to connect to the right people, our light switches to work.  It's as if there were some kind of basic antagonism between what the dream-ego expects and the real path of the dream when it's about machines.  Perhaps as Jung is often quoted as saying, we just went too far, too fast in developing our tools for controlling the outer world, and there is some kind of immense inner compensation that occurs in dreams.   

  And yet, with computer dreams, one just doesn't see the incidence of conflict that occurs in machines in general.  Oh, they are there, and they are regular, but far less than other machines, and far less than machines that work so much better than computers!    

The tendency with computer dreams is to see them as a vehicle for transport and communication, as a fellow being with an identity, as a screen through which we might change dimensions.   

And so, in terms of the big picture and the archetypal pressures and forces at work with humans and the digital virtual revolution,  I almost want to align myself with the odd ball UFO groups that see, (on a symbolic level anyway) that *something* big is about to happen to mankind.  I almost want to take up with the digital elite that see the whole world, even material world, as code, and once de-coded, converted into digital format. I almost want to join with the cyber-enthusiasts that see the economy shifting from real-estate to virtual-economy.  

  Almost.  I sure thought that the cyber-feast would continue thought 2004 and I got caught sort when it didn't.  Things don't evolve smoothly, but more in discontinuous leaps, both forward and back.  The time-table now for the full ascendancy of the Digital Virtual deity is pushed back for me by decades, many centuries, from where it was for me in 1999.  

And as Jung has pointed out, there are some problems with signs, and therefore with abstractions, and discrete quanta.  They tend to be soulless, to be a bi-directional item that points to something beyond themselves on one hand, and are motivated by where they came from on the other.  They don't care much about us, and they have their own destinies. Much like the replicants in the movie "Blade Runner". The androids looked and acted like humans, but they admitted that they had other plans; to live in places humans had no interest or possibility of living, and of creating things beyond which humans had no interest or possibility of creating.  

It's not at all clear to me where my own alignment is.  Stick with flesh-based, slow brain thinking that is very muddy, or upload myself into android with a quantum brain or network of virtual identities and take part in the birth of a new paradigm?  

In my dreams, my computers are replacing other objects.  And so too this is occurring in the general populous. Just as cars replaced horse and buggies statistically in dream imagery, the digital objects will replace objects with which we have less attention and time.  

What is the dream saying to us through and about these new objects and the digital revolution? I don't have an answer that deeply satisfies me yet, either personally or for the large culture.  This is all part of the continuing study of dreams and computers, but also the continuing struggle to keep the human as an important model, if not an important concrete reality, in the virtual realm.  



1. Re: computer dream statistics: these are just my eyeball view of the stats and gross over-generalizations - see the raw data for your own conclusions. See


2. I was just kind of thinking out loud, and so ravished many people's ideas. I wanted to include here some of these: Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Jean Baudrillard, Ray Kurzweil, Henry Bergson, Stephen Aizenstat, Jayne Gackenbach, G. W. Domhoff, Patrica Garfield, Robert Bosnak.