Coded gray.

Tuesday 19 February 2002

Screenshot The Sims

Pic of the day: A collegium of personalities.

Complex thoughts

I agree - at least mostly - with C.G. Jungs "complex" theory of the psychology. This does not refer to the fact that the human psyche is a rather complex place. Rather Jung considered the psyche to be populated with lots of small entities, kind of like personalities but less developed. These did he call complexes. The word has taken on a different and purely negative meaning in everyday speech. But it was not like that from the beginning.

It is easy for the casual observer to think that the psyche and the ego are basically the same thing. But clearly this is not so. Again and again people experience that they do things they did not mean to do, or even more likely, they don't do what they meant to do. Suddenly you forget the name of a good friend. You know it almost like your own, but you just can't get to it. Suddenly you say something different from what you meant to say. Or suddenly your body reacts in an unplanned and embarassing way. Clearly we are not completely alone in our brain!

Some people are also plagued by strong bouts of anger, or lust, or addiction. They do something they had not thought to do, and not just for a moment; it takes quite a while and they are still kind of conscious; but they are different. Afterwards they say "I don't know what came over me", "I wasn't myself" etc. So who were they then?


One cool way to observe small complexes without too much fuss is with a timer. I used a small personal computer that flashed me words from my diary. (It did not include the small words such as "if and it or the".) The program then measured the time it took me to write a response, as well as logging the actual response. What's so nifty about that? The fact that I could observe delays that I did not feel. According to Jung's theory, a complex can intercept our input or output and keep it briefly to evaluate it. It may then release it, or try to change the reaction. In the first case, you will only notice a slight delay, but no change in content. In the second case, you may notice that the reply does not seem properly connected to the prompt.

A complex probably forms when memories and emotions stick to some kind of core. Think a magnet in iron rubble, or some object with its own gravity in debris-filled space. The core can be a traumatic event; these are quite well documented. Or it could be a person. It would seem that we make our own internal representation of all the people we know, and then some. This internal representation works like a complex: It adds to itself any event and feeling that involves this person. Of course this is not a true image of that other person. It is selective at the best of times. It can even be a stereotype.

Jung thought that some stereotypes were so vital to our survival that they were instinctive. He was probably right, but he probably overdid it. It is a good bet that we are programmed with a "child" archetype: Once we have accepted someone (or even a pet) as our "child" there is a lot of emotional luggage that just unfolds. Of course this could also be nurture rather than nature, since it's a long long time since anyone grew up without being on the receiving end of the child type. Other archetypes are even more dubious. Yes, there are some concepts that seem to pop up in myths everywhere in the world: The hero, the dragon, the magician, the good and the evil brother. And the god / goddess. But studies of the extremely few people who have grown up without human contact ("wild children") seem to indicate that they are barely even human, much less have any refined inborn mythologies.


The size of the free-willed complexes vary from person to person. In some, the ego or personal self is very dominant. In others there is not even a single ego, but just a collective of personalities. Some of these may not even know each other. Most of us are not at that end of the scale, but with a little practice we can often observe a flurry of activity in our own mind. I have this practice and am often entertained by the "voices in my head". Not that they are actual voices, except when I am very tired, but they are fairly independent thoughts. Sometimes I can hear them debate out some topic. Sometimes my brain plays snatches of song, quite unbidden. Clearly there is a lot of activity there which I would not have noticed unless I had practiced some degree of introspection. I can sympathize with those who don't dare to do that, but for me it feels fairly safe. The "voices" are quite friendly and subservient.

Not all are so lucky. Some have voices that berate them, belittle them, provoke them. Perhaps these are playing the roles of parents or siblings or other persons of authority who did these things when you were a child. I don't know.

On a couple different occasions, I have noticed severely retarded boys have conversations with themselves, shifting between several different voices. I did not listen too closely, being a decent person who value the privacy of others; but it was hard to avoid the notion that the person was acting out the voices in his head. Voices that - from the pitch of them - seemed to represent a man, a woman and a child, at least. A good bet is that these were the parent voices lingering on in the absence of the actual parents. I would not be surprised if the same happens in normal people, only under the surface.

It is a strange and wondrous thing that as you learn to know me, I get a small representation in your mind too. A small Magnus-Itland complex. So you can ask: "What would Magnus do?" and the little voice in your head will answer you. In a friendly way, no doubt. Creepy, huh?

But you'll be hearing from me baby,
long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly
from a window in the Tower of Song.

Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: E-ducation
Two years ago: Heads or tails
Three years ago: Health is good for your sex

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