The Purpose of Consciousness Is Language

The sense of loneliness and yearning for something beyond personal needs, something lost or forgotten, some Eden is the longing to return to a state of unconscious union with the world, an abolition of fretful ego in favour of carefree unknowing, a state like that of crocodiles basking on the river-bank with a belly full of fish. All is well! All is right with the world! We hunger for sheer, unadulterated, unexamined contentment. In short, we want to regain the childish condition Jung so aptly called the “participation mystique,” the situation where, as small children, we could not tell what was “us” and what was the world.

Painting depicting people in conversation

The purpose of consciousness is language which enables us to communicate and co-operate. (Photo: Wikimedia)

This ill-defined longing for blissful unconsciousness is behind the current preoccupation with the unconscious mind. We have fallen in love with the imaginative mythical depiction of this mind-at-the-back-of-our-mind. We hope to exploit its remarkable powers. We want to live entirely by positive emotion. We want to sail through life skilfully steered by a magical automatic pilot. Unfortunately, we are in love with a fantasy. Alternatively, we take a cruder approach, and seek to wipe out consciousness with drink or drugs.

The unconscious is most assuredly the origin of will, but ego must remain in charge of the psyche. It is the job of ego to provide conscious awareness of what is going on. Ego may not decide what we will, but it must be aware of what we will. This is so because humans are a social species. We survive by using complex and sophisticated language to communicate with each other and to foster productive mutually beneficial cooperation. To abdicate our language-based conscious awareness in favour of a non-linguistic unconsciousness is utterly self-defeating.

Yet, as essential as it is, consciousness can be trying. We fret. In recent decades, reason’s reputation has fallen on hard times.

The remedy lies with a thorough change of attitude. If we can imagine the unconscious in such a gloriously favourable light, we can do the same for the conscious mind, the ego. There was a time when we did just that. Why not romanticize consciousness and fall in love with the idea that the conscious mind, the ego, should really manage the psyche? What ever happened to such lovely phrases as “the sweet, clear light of reason?” What became of the powerful, old-fashioned idea of sensible down to earth logic? Those things sound wonderful, do they not?

Imagination lends magic to whatever it touches, and imagination is a function of the conscious mind. As such, we can apply it wherever we wish. However, in re-enshrining the talkative ego as rightful ruler of the psyche we are obligated to accept and integrate the distressing memories, desires, and ideas we have been repressing, and to identify and withdraw our projections. We are obligated to accept the responsibility of emptying our personal unconscious, and in thus doing, become whole. Most important, we must know ourselves well enough to know what we genuinely will.

Whether we like it or not, we cannot return to a state of non-linguistic unconsciousness, however natural, desirable, or peaceful that state may seem. Evolution has made us a co-operative language-using species. We will not survive without consciousness and the communication capabilities it provides.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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