Tuesday, February 5, 2008

#29. The Four-fold Mind

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We may not know exactly what the mind is, but we do know that it's not something static: it's not so much a thing as a dynamic process. We also know-- although it's less commonly understood-- that it operates in four distinct ways.

This post is an expansion on the first of the three "snapshots" I presented in the previous post (#28 "Where I'm At") about the three different directions I want to move in next-- all, alas, at the same time! That first snapshot is a follow-up to post #27 where I used Brad Blanton's ideas about radical honesty to help in an understanding of the stages of personal development.

In that posting I said that "If you are familiar with the Jungian idea of the four-fold functions of consciousness or with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, you may have noticed that the progression in the levels of honesty goes from Sensing (in the belief stage) to the judgment functions of Thinking and Feeling (in the ego-experience stage) and to the image-making Intuitive function (in the most mature stage)."

For many years I've been interested in the fact that the mind functions in four different ways and I was delighted to find references to it in Blanton's work. The basic idea of the four-fold mind comes from the human sciences, specifically psychology and cultural anthropology, and is invaluable for our self-understanding.

A problem we have is that there are so many names for the mystery of personal self-awareness that it's difficult to express these ideas about the four-fold mind easily. But no matter what words we use to name the mystery which we are (self, soul, mind, gnosis, psyche), the basic idea is that consciousness is quaternary.


In an evolutionary context, we can put this concept in the form of a question: What is the universe doing when it expresses itself via the workings of the human brain-- the most complex arrangement of living matter we know-- which it doesn't do when it takes the form of animals, plants and non-living things?

In her comments (which are found at the end of post #25), reader "Mollie" describes what she calls "some things I continue to wonder about." One has to do with the question, What is consciousness? The quaternary perspective goes a long way to answering that question. 

Certainly it doesn't provide any final answers to the mystery of our personal self-awareness, but understanding the fact that consciousness is four-fold helps a lot.

If it's unfamiliar to you, the idea that we have a four-fold mind may sound a bit gimmicky at first, but it's not. In fact, there are innumerable implications for our self-understanding offered by the idea that consciousness is quaternary. And they are especially helpful in our contemporary situation, in the Immense Transition we are undergoing from the static worldviews of rationalist science and dualistic religion to the dynamic, evolutionary and unitive perspectives of the New Cosmology.


The famous Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung spelled out the functions of consciousness in the earliest years of the 20th century. It's often said that if he had done nothing else he would still have a significant place in the history of psychology. (Needless to say, with his discoveries of the place of symbols and archetypes in the unconscious psyche and his efforts in bringing those previously disdained aspects of human nature into the realm of science, he did a lot more.)

Jung's ideas about the four-fold mind have come into common use specifically in terms of the suitability of various personality types for job placement, but the emphasis there is on which one or two of the four functions is strongest in an individual.

While knowing what our strengths are and making use of them in our personal life and in earning a living are of tremendous practical importance, that emphasis for the most part misses the idea that all four functions are needed throughout our life-time if we are to be complete persons with an integrated rather than lopsided consciousness.

And it's that lopsidedness which in western culture accounts for the great damage that the patriarchal mind inflicts on women, children and the environment and is the cause of much of our racial and religious conflict.

I'm aware that that's a big claim; I hope to talk about it later in this post and in several future postings. My main point here is that, in the Immense Transition currently taking place as a result of the new Universe Story of contemporary science, becoming aware of quaternary consciousness is of major significance not just for individuals but for all western society and for humanity as a whole.

As is often the case, however, it's not a matter of discovering something new so much as re-claiming something which has been part of all humanity's ancient cultural traditions.


Jung, in fact, didn't discover something which had been previously unknown outside of western culture. An understanding of the mind as four-fold can be found in many ancient traditions; an especially interesting and useful example is the teachings connected with the Native American Medicine Wheel.

One reason the Native American teachings are especially helpful is because Jung used German names for the four functions and, while they have become a standard part of the jargon of contemporary psychology, they don't translate well into easily understood English. 

None of the Jungian terms for the four functions of the mind-- Sensation, Thinking, Feeling and Intuition-- means quite what those English words usually mean.

In contrast, the Medicine Wheel teachings use animal imagery. And they relate the four ways our mind works to space and time: the four directions, the seasons of the year, the times of day and even the flow of time, past, present and future. It's a very different perspective.


An especially important emphasis in the teachings of the Medicine Wheel is that they offer a better perspective on the understanding of our need for integrating the four functions than does the modern use of personality types for job placement.

On the other hand, the Medicine Wheel teachings lack something which is more clear in Jungian presentations: a recognition that the four functions actually are two pairs of opposite mental activities. One pair has to do with our perception of the world and the other pair has to do with making judgments about what we have perceived. Sensation and Intuition are forms of perception, while Thinking and Feeling are evaluative activities.

In the broadest sense, perception is the answer the conscious mind gets when we ask the question, "What's there?" And judgment is our response to what we perceive to be there: "Are we accurate? And how does what's there-- or our perception of what's there-- affect us?"

If these thoughts remind you of my many references in previous postings to the Biogenetic Structuralist terms operational environment and cognized environment, you're right. But expanding on those connections would be much too distracting just now; I hope to do it in a future post. What I want to do here is to spell out-- with help from the Native American imagery-- what I'd like to think of as the ABCs of the Jungian functions of consciousness.


Perception functions. When we try to perceive the environment outside ourselves we can look either at the details or at the whole picture. But we can't do both at once. It's the familiar distinction between seeing the forest or seeing the trees. Jung named seeing the trees (the details) "Sensation" and seeing the forest (the whole picture) "Intuition."

The White Buffalo of the North. Native American imagery puts the Sensation function at the north of the Medicine Wheel, evoking the cold of winter and the darkness of midnight. Its image is the White Buffalo. 

For the Plains tribes, the buffalo was the main source of food and tools needed for survival, just as the focus of the Sensation function is the here and now details of our existence, whatever is needed for our safety and survival. A good example of strong "white buffalo" personalities are medical people who, often more than the rest of us, can handle the immediate details of life and death situations efficiently. 

But any persons devoted to the service to others on behalf of life are good examples.

The Black Bear of the West. The Medicine Wheel puts the Intuitive function in the west, evoking autumn and evening. Its image is the Black Bear, the traditional native image for shamanic persons, those concerned with the future and its possibilities and for the meaning of our existence. The contrast between the White Buffalo and Black Bear functions is great: strong Intuitive types tend easily to get lost in details while strong Sensation types, on the other hand, hardly understand the meaning of "meaning."


Judgment functions. In contrast to the perception functions, the other pair of consciousness functions is evaluative. Once we have consciously perceived something as present in our environment, we make a judgment about either the correctness of that perception or about its value. And again, we can't do both at once. Jung named judging our perceptions for accuracy "Thinking" and judging whether what we think we perceive is good or bad for us "Feeling." (That's "good or bad" not in an ethical sense but in terms of our safety and survival; what's being evaluated is whether the perceived situation is dangerous and to be avoided or useful or helpful and thus to be pursued. Again, it's much like the idea that the cognized environment is an evolutionary survival mechanism, as I spelled out in post #13.)

The Gold Eagle of the East. On the Medicine Wheel, the Thinking function is located in the East, evoking springtime and morning, new beginnings and the sharp piercing rays of the rising sun. Its image is the Golden Eagle, who flies high in the sky and is able to see over large areas. Thinking types love that long view of spatial areas and the sequential flow of time from past to present and future.

The Green Mouse of the South. The Medicine Wheel locates the Feeling function in the south, evoking the warmth of summer and midday. Its image is the Green Mouse who, living close to the earth, can't see very far but loves to hold on to everything from the past. As packrats, green mouse personalities have a tough time letting go of things, but they value relationships and the connectedness. And again, the contrast is great. Strong Thinking types like to operate from a distance while strong Feeling types can hardly get enough of "togetherness."


That's the ABCs of my thoughts about the four-fold mind. I am well aware that neither Jungians nor caretakers of the Medicine Wheel would approve of it. (It's as superficial as saying that "Hamlet is a story about a guy who goes crazy and kills a lot of people." Needless to say, there's a lot more to it.) But those ABCs are a start. They provide me with helpful tools for talking about the convergence of science and religion from a significant, if unfamiliar, slant.

If these ideas are new to you and you're wondering what your own strengths might be, there are many personality type inventories available free on-line. A good site is Personality Pathways. Jung's own presentation is found in Volume 6 of his collected works, published separately as Psychological Types (Princeton University Press, 1976). 
And one of my favorite books containing Medicine Wheel teachings is Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm (Harper & Row, 1972). 

References both to Jung's work and to the Medicine Wheel teachings abound on the internet.

Native American teachings are only one example of humanity's cultural traditions where images are used to express the functions of the four-fold mind. We can see them depicted in many places: two less familiar examples are the fierce gods and spirits pictured in Tibetan mandalas and the spirit-powers known as the Guardians of the Gates evoked by the practitioners of Wicca at the start of their ceremonies. An interesting fact is that once we become tuned-in to the idea of the four-fold functions of consciousness we begin to find expressions of them everywhere; after a while we start seeing everything in terms of fours-- an experience which one religious thinker I especially like, Bruno Barnhart, refers to jokingly as the "mandalic affliction."


One of the main reasons I see an awareness of quaternary consciousness as being so valuable in the contemporary transition to the New Cosmology is that it greatly enriches our understanding of how personal consciousness is linked to the physical cosmos.

Jung thought, for example, that the four-fold nature of the mind may have its origins in the structure of the carbon atom, the element on which all life on Earth is based. The main chemical components of living cells (such as proteins, fats and nucleic acids) are all large carbon-based molecules whose structures are possible because of the carbon atom's unique four-fold bonding capacity.

Even if Jung's hunch about the carbon atom's four-fold bonding structure isn't accurate, it's on the right track in the sense that that the quaternary structure of the conscious mind is an expression at the third level of physical complexity of the cosmic process.

Neurological research since Jung's time makes the matter-mind link much more definite. The brain's four main lobes (the Frontal Lobe, the Parietal Lobe, the Occipital Lobe and the Temporal Lobe) each have somewhat different activities which correlate with Jung's perception and judgment functions. I'm still in "Neurology 101" with regard to expressing clearly the complicated details involved but I hope to be able to spell them out in a future post.

A neurological understanding of functions of the four main brain areas has many religious implications; especially important among them are why our consciousness seems to need to attribute the existence of things to a creative source and why we feel the need for a purpose to our personal existence.

I see these neurological findings as one of the most important understandings of contemporary science which can help us move beyond the dead-end limits of religious dualism and scientific rationalism.

They also help us to understand the connection between ourselves as individuals and the relational or communal aspect of our personal consciousness-- to what I've called in previous posts "the other half of person." Having a good sense of the scientific basis for our communal nature is especially important for dealing successfully with pressing contemporary problems such as social justice, environmental awareness and cultural conflicts.

For many centuries, Scholastic Philosophy was called "the handmaid of theology." I think nowadays it's scientific research-- especially in areas such as neurological studies and cultural anthropology-- which is becoming the "handmaid" of a more informed religious understanding of the human situation. I see the quaternary worldview as a major tool in the contemporary convergence of religion and science.


One of the most significant things the quaternary perspective allows us to see is that in both its religious and scientific forms, the Western mind is inherently lopsided.

Patriarchal consciousness, whether in the form of scientific rationalism or religious dualism, chooses Thinking over Feeling and Sensation over Intuition. At the same time, it ignores the Feeling function, denies-- when it can-- the very existence of the Intuitive function, and dismisses both as "feminine."


I think those two sentences make up a mini-summary of western culture's major problems!

So even though the concept of a four-fold mind may seem a bit odd at first, it quickly becomes clear, at least to some of us, that we need to understand the quaternary nature of consciousness if we are to become whole as individuals and as a global community.

It's obvious that none of the four functions is better than the others and that both functions in each pair are necessary if we are to be whole and complete, and not lopsided persons.

It's because the Western world got stuck-- in the Sensation function's focus on details and the Thinking function's delight in distinctions-- that Western culture is having such a tough time moving beyond the rational-only perspectives of early science and a thousand years of dualistic religion.

Western-patriarchal culture misses out on the Black Bear's perception of wholeness and on the Green Mouse's valuing of relatedness; in our lopsided ego-centric cultural situation, this makes the communal-social nature of our selves-- on which social justice and ecological sensitivity depend-- difficult to grasp.

But as I've said-- and it's my main point here-- an understanding of the quaternary nature of consciousness, based on Jung's work and on pre-scientific expressions of those same ideas, such as the Medicine Wheel teachings, can help us to link our understanding of ourselves as individuals and as social-communal persons with the dynamic evolution of the universe.

Understanding that we have a four-fold mind not only roots us in the Earth. It also allows us to see that our personal creative participation in the Earth's cultural development is nothing less than the on-going activity of the cosmic evolutionary process.

And that, as I understand it, is the basis for any viable contemporary spirituality.


1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.