What is the Singularity Archetype?
Some of the most significant layers of meaning in Avatar are not to be found in the articles available on the web that discuss its underlying mythology, at least from what I’ve read. Avatar is charged with emergent archetypal messages from the collective unconscious that relate to an evolutionary event horizon which I’ve discussed in my writings on “the Singularity Archetype.” The Singularity Archetype, a term I coined many years ago, is a primordial image of an evolutionary event horizon that seems to be an implicit potentiality glowing in the collective unconscious of our species.
I first wrote about the Singularity Archetype (though I didn’t use the term at the time) in an undergraduate philosophy honors paper I wrote in 1978 when I was twenty-years-old and which is available on line: Archetypes of a New Evolution. I discovered that there was an emergent archetype that contained crucial information about our future evolution and that manifested itself in dreams, fantasies and religious visions forming a core element in a largely unrecognized contemporary mythology. The most potent expression of this mythology continues to be in science-fiction novels and films. (See my book Crossing the Event Horizon—the Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis for my most thorough treatment of the subject.)
Before we can discuss Avatar we need a working understanding of the Singularity Archetype.
An Example of the Singularity Archetype
To get a feeling for the Singularity Archetype it is necessary to study some of the specific manifestations of it. I’ll provide a very basic one here which comes from one of Jung’s most brilliant colleagues, Marie Louise Von Franz, from a chapter she authored in Jung’s classic introductory work, Man and his Symbols. Von Franz describes two dreams reported to her by someone she describes as “…a simple woman who was brought up in Protestant surroundings…” In both dreams a supernatural event of great significance is being viewed. But in one dream the dreamer is viewing the event from below, standing on the earth, in the other dream she views the same event from above.
(The dreamer’s painting, from Man and His Symbols by C.G. Jung.)
In the earthbound dream, the dreamer is standing with a guide looking down at Jerusalem. The wing of Satan descends and darkens the city. The uncanny wing of the devil occurring in the Middle East immediately brings to mind Antichrist and Armageddon.
But in her other dream, the dreamer is witnessing the same event from the heavens. From this vantage the dark wing of Satan appears as the white, wafting cloak of God. A white spiral appears as a symbol of evolution.
Von Franz describes,
“…the spectator is high up, somewhere in heaven, and sees in front of her a terrific split between the rocks. The movement in the cloak of God is an attempt to reach Christ, the figure on the right, but it does not quite succeed. In the [earthbound] painting, the same thing is seen from below—from a human angle. Looking at it from a higher angle, what is moving and spreading is a part of God; above that rises the spiral as a symbol of possible further development. But seen from the basis of our human reality, this same thing in the air is the dark, uncanny wing of the devil.”
Implications of the Singularity Archetype
In these two dreams we see one of the classic aspects of the Singularity Archetype—what to the earth-bound ego seems apocalyptic, from a cosmic viewpoint is revealed to be a transcendent evolutionary event. Again, to get a feeling for this archetype requires contact with several examples which you can find in the documents linked above. In Looking Toward the Event Horizon I summarized some of the implications of the Singularity Archetype as follows:
“As we move toward the event horizon, the physics of the dreamtime more potently interpenetrates the physics of the waking life. Synchronicity becomes more the rule than the exception, and the way we have become accustomed to experiencing space and time is drastically altered. Matter is respiritualized and transforms more readily to accord with psychic intentions. The new species are changelings and reality transformers freed from many of the mortal and corporeal limitations that bound the older species.”
“The relationship between individuality, ego, and collectivity is fundamentally transformed, and we see many variations of “homo gestalt”—new versions of the species where group telepathies enhance the synergy and symbiosis of individuals. More visual and telepathic modalities of communication are involved in this fundamental shift. Members of the new species are typically androgynous and many aspects of gender stereotyping become archaic.”
“To catalyze such fundamental metamorphosis may require planet-wide shocks that punctuate the equilibrium of the species and threaten the entire human genome. The shocks may need to be of apocalyptic intensity to overcome the inherent conservatism of species homeostasis and to potentiate a will toward metamorphosis. As we move toward the event horizon there is an exponential intensification of novelty as new and unexpected forms are created, latent capacities become manifest, and emergent aspects are revealed. The human ego as defender of the old equilibrium may approach many of these transformations with fear, loathing and violence. Patriarchal power structures, including religious fundamentalism and the military-industrial complex, may perceive the metamorphosis as a zero-sum game competition of species, with genocide or extinction as the binary options.”
“Because the eschaton of the species and the individual event horizon of death have great parallel resonance, those who are driven by the fear and denial of death will greet the metamorphosis with the same maladaptive strategies that have characterized their approach to life in general. Xenophobic violence, will to power, and territoriality may be exacerbated. As novelty intensifies, we should expect to see the outer edges of both dark and light intensify.”
“Because of the parallelism between individual death and eschaton of the species, the typically human confusion of inner and outer will cause many prophesiers to anticipate various end dates conveniently scheduled to occur within their lifetimes. This tendency to displace fear of individual death onto a relatively close end date only intensifies the binding to linear time and represents a last effort of the ego to control a transcendent metamorphosis.”
“The Singularity Archetype is essentially a low resolution map of an evolutionary event horizon. From my point of view, the future contains formed and unformed elements, and the lack of specificities and exact timelines (though many will attempt to attach these) allows greater room for free will and novel outcomes. Each of us is hurtling toward an event horizon, and whether the nearest event horizon is personal death or species-wide eschaton, it is crucial to view both as emergences rather than as emergencies. A threshold of absolute metamorphosis is guaranteed in either case, and therefore the way one lives one’s life requires ultimate values that retain meaning when seen against the backdrop of eternity.”
The Will Toward the Glorified Body
An aspect of the Singularity Archetype that is especially relevant to Avatar is what I call “the will toward the glorified body.” My essay, The Glorified Body—Metamorphosis of the Body and the Crisis Phase of Human Evolution, explores this aspect of the Singularity Archetype. Here are some passages particularly relevant to this discussion of Avatar:
“To understand the will toward the Glorified Body we first need to define what I am referring to as the ‘Glorified Body.’ Many Christian writings describe the body of the resurrected Christ as being a ‘Glorified Body’ —-a radiant body free of mortal limitations. Although I am not working from a Christian point of view, I believe that this phrase captures a powerful archetype. We see images and hear stories of the Glorified Body in most or all cultures and periods. There are all sorts of variations and numerous gradations on the Glorified Body spectrum, but the defining characteristics are fairly apparent.”
“Although the Glorified Body occurs in endless variations there are two very broad categories in which the term ‘Glorified Body’ will be employed in this article. One use of Glorified Body refers to the inherent ‘energy body’ that all human beings possess. Sometimes I will substitute ‘energy body’ to make clear this first meaning of Glorified Body. The second and somewhat overlapping category of use for the term ‘Glorified Body’ is to refer to human or nonhuman entities whose manifest bodies are closer to energy than conventional flesh and blood bodies. This type of Glorified Body hovers in the collective psyche of the human species as a highly charged image and expectation of our further evolution…”
“In mythologies, the Glorified Body appears free of some or all of the many limitations of mortality. The Glorified Body may be completely free of cosmetic blemishes, limited vitality, aging, pain, disease, and death. A Glorified Body may be able to transcend conventional limitations of space and time. For example, it may not need technology or an intermediary force of any sort to appear in any location it chooses. It may have transcendent clarity of vision and thought. Often it will transcend ordinary language and communicate through radiance or from the inside of another psyche. A being with a Glorified Body may live in a state of enlightenment and love. Or it could be evil and possess an incredibly potent array of diabolical powers. Visually, a Glorified Body may appear radiant and beautiful—–awe inspiring, numinous—–the body of an angel. But it could also choose to appear cloaked as a mundane, physical body or as a hideous apparition or demon. The most evolved Glorified Bodies are infinitely plastic, able to take on whatever form is desired. This is the quality of the shape shifter, the changeling——like the devil that ‘hath the power to assume a pleasing shape’ or the liquid metal terminator in the popular movie Terminator 2.”
“In contemporary mythology the Glorified Body appears in a spectrum of permutations ranging from an idealized human material body to a state of omnipotent, omniscient godhood. In our materialistic culture we have Superman , ‘the Man of Steel’, who has a more industrialized version of the Glorified Body. (‘The Man of Steel’ seems the perfect Iron Age personification of the Glorified Body—to put this in the perspective of the cycle of ages see The Mutant versus the Machine—the End of the Iron Age and the Galactic Alignment of 2012 .) Superman doesn’t have special radiance, telepathy or most other divine attributes, but leaps tall buildings in a single bound, outruns locomotives, and most helpful in our culture, is bulletproof. At the other end of our cultural spectrum the Glorified Body turns up as the shape-shifting UFO phenomenon perceived by human observers in endlessly varying forms.”
“The human will toward the Glorified Body is not a subtle urge. It is an iron fist pounding on both sides of the doors of perception. It is an urging of such terrible power that it will prompt some to go under the surgeon’s knife, to starve themselves to death, to sell their souls in the hope of having a mortal body that will merely better resemble a Glorified Body for a brief time. The Glorified Body is not a casual, imaginative musing or an episodic blip on the radar screens of various cultures. It is a powerful, emergent archetype. It is one of our most ancient obsessions and one of the most explosively contemporary. It is related to the deepest sources of human suffering, an inextricable aspect of a thousand types of neurotic torment, a companion in some way to almost every form of personal hell. It is also a divine muse, one of the greatest sources of hope and inspiration we’ve ever known.”
“Messages about the will toward a Glorified Body are as ubiquitous in our culture as radio and television waves. Expression of this will can also be found deeply embedded in every religion and mythology, and yet it is rarely named, rarely seen as a highly defined, differentiated and absolutely integral aspect of human psychology. The will toward the Glorified Body is at the center of some of our most destructive and also some of our most creative impulses. This will is a primary urge which can inspire incredible athletic achievement, great art, and technology that blurs with magic.”
“The will toward the Glorified Body is what inspired Michelangelo to carve David. This same will has also inspired the technological magicians of the computer industry to provide us with ‘Avatars,’ animated characters that will represent us in the once visually anonymous world of the Internet. Soon we will be able to boot up our virtual Glorified Bodies and revel in a digital garden of earthly delights. Our bodies will be infinitely plastic and with a mouse click we can be leaner than Kate Moss or have cybernetically enhanced muscle definition that will make Mr. Universe look like the Pilsbury Dough Boy. It’s interesting to note the term the computer industry has adopted for these new digital bodies—-Avatars. The first definition of Avatar in the abridged Oxford dictionary is: ‘(in Hindu mythology) the descent of a deity or released soul to earth in bodily form.’”
“But somewhere behind the ever more glowing computer monitor or virtual reality goggles will be a human being—– a digitally unenhanced mortal/organic version 1.0, who will very likely have bags under his eyes and a pot belly. The Wizard of Oz tells us not to look at the man behind the curtain. But we will look, and will be ever more horrified with the contrast between what we see behind the curtain and what’s up there on the screen. The primary urge will remain agonizingly unfulfilled.”
“However unfulfilling it may be in some ways, technology is one of the central expressions of the will toward a Glorified Body. Technology actually does allow us to extend our physical bodies through time and space. The urge to become a celebrity, for example, is an urge toward a Glorified Body that modern technology can, to some degree, create. In her films, Marilyn Monroe still lives as a youthful beauty. Since she died young there is no aging, mortal body to provide an embarrassing contrast to her Glorified Body projected on the silver screen. She remains a goddess.”
“The will toward a Glorified Body is a primary urge, the urge of our entire species and not just single individuals living in a particular culture. (I’m intentionally using the word “urge” here to blur the distinction between instinct and drive as I think this primary urge partakes of both biological and psychological forces.) Organisms of all sorts seem to have the primary urge to reproduce, to genetically propagate. Among gendered organisms there is an insistent urge to couple with other individuals of the same species. That urging may be intense enough to be described as “going into heat.” Heat is a state of excitement and increased dynamism, whether it is the material heat of fire or the metabolic heat of a living organism. The organism in heat may appear agitated, even tormented, while in the grip of this urge. In the adolescent stage of development—–the stage of recently acquired reproductive potential—-there may be the particularly urgent will to achieve that first coupling. The unfulfilled urge is antecedent to the coupling event—-an event that in chaos math would be a called an “attractor.” (Very roughly, an “attractor” is an event in the future that is so powerful that it warps causality and phenomena in the present.) Very likely the organism will get to fulfill this urge. But it’s not a sure thing. Some organisms may die before they fulfill the urge—but certainly some individuals of that species must get to fulfill that urge or the species will become extinct. As far as I can tell, urges in nature are always fulfilled by a species, though not necessarily by every individual of that species. Only in human beings could we even imagine the existence of an urge that seems to never be fulfilled. My contention is that the human species has “gone into heat”—-a state of heightened expectation, agitation and chaos. We are nearing the attractor, nearing the place where we can couple with the Glorified Body and fulfill a primary urge.”
“The intensifying will toward the Glorified Body is happening at a time of evolutionary crisis when the metabolism of the whole species is heating up. Technological changes and scientific discoveries are fundamentally altering our experiences of self and outer reality. The biosphere that allows the existence of our physical bodies has undergone a global toxification threatening the continuance of our species. To understand the body-image plague we must view it in the context in which it occurs—–a crisis phase of human evolution. Many attributes of the human psyche, from sexuality and body image to spirituality and our sense of relation to the universe, are rapidly mutating. We cannot comprehend symptoms without understanding the general condition of a species that is hurtling toward an evolutionary nexus charged with images of extinction and rebirth. Our intensifying will toward the Glorified Body is more than an urge to reconnect with the inherent, human energy body recognized by all cultures. It is also a species-wide urge to make a quantum, evolutionary jump toward the Glorified Body as our embodied manifestation. We are experiencing an urge to massively redefine body, self and our relationship to physical reality.”
The Will Toward the Glorified Body in Avatar
The will toward the Glorified Body is right at the center of Avatar. James Cameron seems to be aware of this. When Larry King asked him why he picked the name “Avatar,” Cameron responded: “I don’t know. Y’know when I wrote it in ’95, it just popped into my head that here you’ve got people projecting their consciousness into a fleshly body, a biological body, and that’s what the Sanskrit word means, the taking of flesh, the incarnation of a divine being in the case of the Hindu religion. And although our characters aren’t divine beings, obviously, the idea is that it’s actually a fleshly incarnation.”
As Avatar opens, our point of view is that of a Glorified Body, the flying dream body of the protagonist, Jake Sully, a young Marine who is a paraplegic. His character is perfectly designed to represent the will toward the Glorified Body. He is an athletic, vital young man with great physical courage and a warrior essence but whose body is half paralyzed.
The next hauntingly numinous scene in the movie is when Jake first catches a glimpse of his avatar. I pointed out in my essay, “The Glorified Body…”, written in 1996, that “avatar,” a term which had then just been adopted in the computer gaming world, came from Hindu mythology and meant a spirit form descended into the flesh. From the point of view of my essay, a human being is an avatar, a spirit bound to one body for the entire waking portion of an incarnation. We also have an intense will to break free of the one body/one psyche rule that dominates the waking mortal life. The movie Avatar, thanks to both content and the technological enhancements of its form, provides a powerful depiction of what it would be like to break the one body/one psyche rule. Jake cannot restrain his unbridled euphoria when he is able to enter his avatar, a far more powerful and glorified body than he had even before his paralysis. His new body is bioluminescent, idealized, more androgynous and suited to a world where gravity is less limiting than on the earth. In actuality it is a virtual body that is a hybridization of the actor’s body moving through space and time and a CGI avatar.
As I point out in the Glorified Body, we all get to break the one body/one psyche rule during the dreamtime when we are able to merge our awareness with a variety of dream bodies. Avatar begins with the liberated feeling of Jake flying in his dream body. The process of merging with the avatars of the movie is very much like dreaming. Jake lies down in a coffin-like capsule, and analogous to falling asleep and dreaming, his connection to his waking body is submerged and he bonds to a different, enhanced body that lives in Pandora, a place analogous to the dreamtime. The dreamtime is a place of boundary dissolution. Everyone who has seriously studied the dreamtime, including both Freud and Jung, has noticed how telepathic it is compared to the waking time. Many of the reports of mutual dreaming illustrate this dramatically. Similarly, the bioluminescent world of Pandora is a massively telepathic network. I’ll return to the concept of telepathic networks later in this essay.
The process of merging with the avatar, where you enter this technological sarcophagus, also has many parallels to near-death experience. Jake dies to his waking life, passes through a tunnel of light and finds himself in a glorified body. Jake’s life takes on a diurnal/nocturnal sort of cycling that undergoes a figure/ground reversal. The waking life of his paraplegic body recedes with the ghetto life of corporeal limitations, bureaucratic tensions, and intrusions from imperialistic patriarchy. His eros and enthusiasm for life become far more identified with his avatar/Pandoran life. He wants to more fully escape the inferior corporeal/waking life into the Glorified Body/dreamtime/afterlife.
Paradoxically, Cathy Lynn Pagano wrote an article entitled “Avatar: The Archetypal Message Is ‘Get Back In Your Body!’” Pagano points out, quite insightfully, “The freedom and joy of the body moving, leaping, daring is a major component of this story, just as Pandora’s beauty compliments the body’s freedom. The corporate people live in metal boxes, without beauty or free movement; the walking which was such a big part of the game of golf is reduced to putting in the office.”
The paradox she does not recognize is that Jake gets back into ‘the body,’ or more correctly he becomes more vitally embodied by breaking free of the limitations of his damaged human body and merging with his avatar.
Subcreating Imaginal Worlds
“It’s my world, you all are just living in it.” —James Cameron (referring to Pandora), on The Larry King Show
While from the top layer of Avatar’s mythology, Pandora is an exotic, extraterrestrial world, on both a more literal and deeper layer Pandora is actually the world of the empowered human imagination. Pandora is an imaginal world created by James Cameron. Movies, as I’ve pointed out before, are essentially a dream delivery technology. Cameron, who unlike most of us can command a thousand technicians and a quarter billion dollar budget, is able to make his dream, his imaginal world, into a collective dream. His world is, of course, more an extrapolation of human psychology than anything extraterrestrial. For example, since like Cameron I am a baby boomer, I notice a common cultural influence that very likely inspired the bioluminescent world of Pandora. An early psychedelic experience for many baby boomers, including myself, was the backroom of various hippie shops where black lights illuminated black-light posters and created a little phosphorescent world reminiscent of the look of nocturnal Pandora. The experience of the movie, therefore, represents to me not so much extraterrestrial travel as intrapsychic imaginal travel, which has more to do with the dreamtime, the future of virtual reality, and a human evolutionary event horizon we are hurtling toward. By my second viewing of the movie, much of the novelty was gone, and I found that what I really wanted was a 3D IMAX immersive visit to another exotic world, which would be much more exciting than a revisit to Pandora.
Apparently there are quite a number of people, mostly young men, who are complaining on internet forums of depression because they can’t live on Pandora, which seems so real to them while they are watching the film in 3D. For example, CNN, in an article entitled “Audiences experience ‘Avatar’ blues” reports:
“A user named Mike wrote on the fan Web site ‘Naviblue’ that he contemplated suicide after seeing the movie.”
“ ‘Ever since I went to see Avatar I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it,’ Mike posted. ‘I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and that everything is the same as in Avatar .’”
The ‘Naviblue’ phenomenon is understandable because so many in our culture are magically disempowered. They want to live in someone else’s dream because it doesn’t occur to them that they are dreamers and potential subcreators who can create their own worlds. They have been conditioned to be passive consumers of the imaginal plane, not empowered creators on the imaginal plane.
As I have discussed in “White Crows Rising…” on the other side of the evolutionary event horizon, what is envisioned is that the physics of the dreamtime will be the default, rather than the physics of the waking time, and we will have the ability to subcreate our own worlds without access to a thousand technicians and a quarter billion dollars. I have also pointed out that unlike Terence McKenna and Ram Das, whom I have talked to a bit on the subject, I do not expect this evolutionary breakthrough to be a cure for human evils. When novelty increases, the outer edge of light and dark both intensify, and I expect that there will be gifted black magicians making potent diabolical use of these enhanced abilities. I think the name “Pandora” suggests this with its connection to Pandora’s Box. In the original myth Pandora opened a jar, but a mistranslation has rendered it forever into a box. Now the word “Pandora” has been remythologized again and will forever be associated with the world of the Na’vi. Avatar represents an opening of Pandora’s Box in the sense that it is a breakthrough in the technological magic of the movies, and now that the technology has been irretrievably loosed into the world, we can be sure that it will not always be used to deliver collective dreams as benign as Avatar.
Liminality and the Special Role of Hybrids in Evolution
The luminescent jellyfish-like envoys of Eywah, the divine intelligence of Pandora, recognize Jake as a key evolutionary catalyst. In many ways, to the practical intelligence of both human and Pandoran characters, he is the most unlikely of choices. He is severely handicapped in both the human and Pandoran realms, is not particularly bright and is woefully ignorant of Pandoran culture as well as foolish about human politics. What he does have, however, that makes him the ideal choice, is an enthusiastic beginner’s mind. As the Pandoran shaman points out, “It’s hard to fill a cup that is already full.” His lack of knowledge, of course, is also ideal cinematically as we learn things for the first time as he does. Jake is a liminal figure, a person caught between and betwixt, who is not fully accepted in either realm, a hybrid of human and Pandoran, and it is so often that which is liminal and hybrid which is the most alchemically charged and capable of metamorphosis.
Another aspect of Jake that makes him an evolutionary catalyst is that he is a twin. His call to adventure comes because of the murder of his twin, who was trained to merge with a Na’vi avatar. Twins are very significant mythologically, but also from an evolutionary point of view. As I’ve noted in my book on the Singularity Archetype, a new type of consciousness also means a new type of communication, and the new means of communication can easily be what creates the new type of consciousness. The last quantum evolutionary jump had to do with our ability to think and communicate in words. The breakthrough into a more sophisticated form of communication is very likely to happen (both in the past and the future) between identical twins. Identical twins sometimes invent their own languages. (Sometimes called idioglossia or cryptophasia or less technically as “twin talk” or “twin speech.”) Identical twins are a maximal case of rapport that can exist between individuals, and with lessened barriers of difference and miscommunication they seem like the most fertile ground for crossing the communication gap between individuals in novel ways.
In another 2009 CGI film, 9 , a masterpiece that, unlike Avatar , did not get the credit it deserved, we see a brilliant manifestation of the twin aspect of the Singularity Archetype. Amongst a group of prototype rag doll-like creatures there are a pair of twins. While the other prototypes have lens-like eyes that take in visual information, the twins have eyes that transmit information as light between them. They are also able to project moving images to others. A visually-oriented telepathy is one of the most classic aspects of the Singularity Archetype. I discuss this at length in my four hour free audio program, Logos Beheld. Also amazing is that 9 ends with some of the creatures in luminous spirit bodies merging with a moving spiral of light in the sky, another classic element of many of the permutations of the singularity archetype (see the Von Franz dream study above).
The mysterious Norway Sprial which appeared on December 9, 2009
Jake, because of the murder of his human twin, is invited to merge with a new twin, his avatar, which has been grown to genetically match his murdered twin. When this twinned being (Jake in his avatar) travels to Pandora he finds himself in a logos beheld kind of world where most or all of the life is bioluminescent, transmitting information about itself through the projection of light. It is also a world that has much in common with another key aspect of the Singularity Archetype—the telepathic network. All of Pandora seems to be a telepathic network. The human world of the movie, even though it is set in the future, is as ego-fractured as ever, with human psyches encapsulated by their own short-sighted egocentric perspectives. Like the human characters of the imagined future in Avatar we have reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac with the ego. Given the lethality of our present level of technology, we may no longer be able to survive the egocentric perspective. Unlike the Na’vi, the egocentric human is usually unaware, except in an abstracted way, of the living matrix of which he is a part. Encapsulated by technological exoskeletons—SUVs, gadget filled homes, etc.—he may have no direct sense of how his lifestyle is impacting the rest of the living matrix. The problem of the insulated ego is already a very familiar theme, and the ego is all too easy to villainize, but the prejudice against the ego so often found in New Age and Eastern circles fails to notice that the ego served many powerful evolutionary purposes. In White Crows Rising… I wrote:
“In tribal cultures the ego seems less developed than in modern individuals living in industrialized societies. Tribal societies seem to have less individual boundaries and more group consciousness. Earlier human beings may have had less ego, but also less individuality and differentiation. A fundamental aspect or function of the ego is the creation of isolation. An individual perceives him or herself as a separate identity apart from others and the world. This perception creates a degree of isolation and within this insulating bubble an explosion of novelty occurs. A highly complex, unique, differentiated, often pathologized personality develops. Egocentric isolation, like the irritating grain of sand in an oyster, causes the development of a fantastic structure as complex buffering layers are accreted around the irritant and the beautiful pearl of individuality is created.”
One of the great purposes of the ego was to encapsulate consciousness and create a firewall between psyches, greatly reducing the networked telepathy that I believe is more the norm in nature. We see what looks like networked telepathy, for example, in the amazing synchrony of schools of fish. The Secret Life of Plants, and some subsequent studies, seem to show that the vegetable kingdom is not only sentient, but aware of human thoughts and changes to living tissue (while remote from any sensory information). Tribal cultures do seem to be more aware and tapped into the networked intelligence of nature. The Na’vi, in general, seem in most ways to resemble an idealized version of a terrestrial indigenous tribe, and that constitutes a subtle danger in the mythological resonance of the film. The danger is that the film encourages what Ken Wilber calls the “pre/trans” fallacy. In Dynamic Paradoxicalism I described the pre/trans fallacy this way:
“Essentially, the pre/trans fallacy notices a common tendency to confuse pre-rational states with trans-rational states, since both are non-rational. The “reductivist” version of this is the tendency of “scientism,” which reduces all transrational mystical states to prerational infantilism, and dismisses authentic spiritual experience as “superstitious nonsense.” Freud clearly fell for this half of the fallacy, especially in The Future of an Illusion. The “elevationist” version of the fallacy, ubiquitous in the New Age, is to elevate prerational states to the transcendent and to demonize rationality. From this side of the fallacy, babies are thought to be Buddhas, and anything tribal or aboriginal is romanticized and inflated as infinitely superior to anything modern or rational. Promiscuity is seen as a daring rebellion from antiquated taboos, even though it is usually in high conformity to what peers are doing. They recognize as conventional the older sexual morays of the past, but fail to recognize that their rebellion is part of a vast conventionalism of the present, and that this new conventionalism is actually based on a still more primitive level of development than the old conventionalism. Regressing to pre-rational hedonism, indulging every impulse and irrational notion is seen as enlightened, post-conventional and transcendent. This is the state of the typically goofy New Age person who never heard an urban legend or bit of mystical-sounding nonsense without adopting it wholesale. This type of person is fiercely anti-intellectual and anti-rational, so it is impossible to talk them down from their absurdities, even the attempt to do so casts you, in their minds, as this clueless rationalist stuck in their ego. They believe they have transcended rationality, while forgetting that to transcend something you first have to achieve it!”
The glorification of the Na’vi, especially since they appear not only exotic and tribal but are also occurring in a futuristic sci-fi film, is dangerous because it will encourage some people to believe that the answer to our present troubles would be a return to life as warriors in an indigenous rainforest tribe. The Singularity Archetype, however, indicates that the answer has more to do with hybridization—of East and West, of aboriginal with high tech, of past and future. Jake, who appears amongst the Na’vi as a hybrid, is a better personification of the evolutionary message than the Na’vi themselves. Unfortunately, Jake’s character is disappointingly ordinary, he has a good heart and physical courage, but little else to recommend him as the evolutionary catalyst he becomes in the film. From a marketing and story point of view, however, Jake’s ordinariness makes him easier for young males to identify with. Also, in many traditional hero cycles the hero is a naïve young male who has to be initiated into a new world, and Jake fits very well into that tradition. In most of the more inspired versions of stories related to the Singularity Archetype, however, (Dune, Akira, many others) the evolutionary catalyst tends to be a young mutant with extraordinary parapsychological abilities.
Another way that Avatar seems to lean toward the preconventional rather than the transconventional is that a kind of hard-wired interspecies bond with various animals is emphasized over the intraspecies, nonlocal telepathic bond that we find in more inspired story versions of the Singularity Archetype. There seems to be a pantheistic networking with nature, but it is imagined in a very primitive, materialist way where the Na’vi have tails that seems to be the organic equivalent of Ethernet cables. Schools of fish, however, don’t need to connect via nerve bundles to synchronize, so the networking model in the movie seems to have a bias toward the concrete, hard-wired connection. The imagined version of nature is actually more primitive than the already existing version of nature we find here on earth. The Na’vi seemed to be imagined in the image of a pre-Wi-Fi computer network rather than in a transcendent version of nature.
In more sophisticated and inspired versions of the Singularity Archetype, the transcendence of ego-encapsulation is not imagined in such a materialist pre-conventional way. In White Crows Rising… I wrote:
“Collective consciousness turns up frequently in expressions of the Singularity Archetype and merits some examination. In Theodore Sturgeon’s science-fiction novel published in 1953, More than Human, a group of mutants, who each have distinctly different strengths and weaknesses, form a collective consciousness while retaining some individuality and become, in many ways, a single entity where each mutant serves in a specialized role, as if they were organs of a single body. Sturgeon coined the term ” homo gestalt ” to describe this new entity. Similarly, more recent abduction testimony has emphasized the “grays” as having a hive-like collectivity, and this is experienced as another threatening aspect of their alien otherness.”
“There are a number of possible reasons for this collective consciousness motif appearing in so many permutations of this archetype. One is that it may be a fairly literal indicator of evolutionary change. If the ego ceases to dominate the human psyche, then perhaps the boundaries that it creates around the individual will dissipate and we will become more collectively aware. The shells of the oysters dissolve and the pearls lie together.”
The homo gestalt aspect of the Singularity Archetype reflects an evolutionary possibility. Encapsulated psyches become telepathically connected, but without a loss of individuality. For example, in the world of Dune , there is a sisterhood of highly conscious warriors known as the “Bene Gesserit.” To become a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother one must survive a perilous rite called “The Water of Life.” In this initiatory rite one imbibes a potent psychotropic, mutagenic poison. If the initiate survives and becomes a Reverend Mother she will retain her individuality, but will also be aware of the memories and all the psyches of all other Reverend Mothers, living or dead, who have similarly survived this rite. The Reverend Mothers don’t need cables or funny tails to be part of this network.
Parapsychological researchers such as Russell Targ (the laser physicist who cofounded the U.S. Government’s remote viewing program) have long recognized that telepathy and many other parapsychological phenomena occur because our psyches exist in a nonlocal field. In other words, no signal needs to be sent anywhere because psyches do not need to be causally related. Early Soviet parapsychologists called telepathy “mental radio” because they imagined the psyche in the image of the current machine, the radio, and had a causal signal model. But the findings of many well-conducted experiments have shown that the telepathic effect is not lessened by distance (as any energetic signaling would be), nor is it diminished when the subject is in a Faraday Cage (which blocks all electromagnetic signals). More evolved visions of homo gestalt are based on the emergence of encapsulated individuality into a nonlocal telepathic network.
In the final battle at the end of the film, the military/industrial/patriarchal complex is personified by Colonel Quaritch, who is encapsulated in an exoskeleton. Jake is in his avatar, but ultimately is saved because of the telepathic bond with his Na’vi lover. Ultimately Jake survives by transcending the technological connection to his avatar—done via something that looks like a cross between an MRI machine and a particle accelerator—and through an organic network permanently merges with his avatar.
Although I’ve been critical of what seem like failures of imagination in Avatar, I’d like to close with an appreciation of its immense significance for the collective. Elsewhere, I’ve speculated that technology would provide a potent catalyst for our evolution into the imaginal realm when there was enough distributed computer power to provide real-time mapping of human facial expressions onto CGI avatars. In other words, at our present level of technology, people from various parts of the world can interact in a networked computer game like World of Warcraft through their individualized digital avatars. The richness of this virtual social experience, however, is greatly lessened because the avatars are not capable of the complex visual communication enabled by the microsecond-by-microsecond changes of human facial expression. When we reach the point that your webcam can record your facial expressions and map them onto your real-time avatar, we will begin to approach the complexity of face-to-face social contacts in the virtual world. Avatar takes a crucial half step toward that because it advances the ability to give pre-rendered CGI avatars the complexity of the human form. In the making of Avatar, each actor had a miniature camera with LED lights on a little boom in front of their face capturing minute changes of facial expression. The Na’vi avatars, especially since they were 3D, were a very significant advance from earlier live action into CGI films like Beowulf . With the well-handled bonding of Jake with his avatar, and the powerfully immersive medium of 3D IMAX, we had the best so far collective experience of what it would be like to merge with a different body in a different world. Avatar represents a huge cultural milestone though necessarily it is a mere phosphorescent shadow of what awaits us at the event horizon.
Out of respect for the accomplishment of Avatar I’ll close with the testimonial blog I wrote the week it came out,
“I have a time-sensitive recommendation that everyone prioritize seeing the 3D IMAX version of Avatar. This was a life-changing experience for me and the three friends that were with me yesterday. This is a time-sensitive priority because once this film leaves the big screen you’ll be able to see it at home, but not in the venue that gives it overwhelming power—3D IMAX. This opportunity represents the most potent attempt in human history to (without psychotropics) give you the sensory impact of experiencing another world. Although Avatar represents a key, watershed event in the history of cinema, it may be many years before someone else is able to get a budget this size (approximately 300 million) and a thousand skilled people from several special effects studios to pull something like this off again. The 3D IMAX experience is so immersive that it creates a real participation mystique with another brilliantly realized world. Forget the trailers and any reviews. The trailers didn’t impress me at all, quite the opposite, because they are flat low-res representations of something not meant to be perceived that way.
Avatar is the most impressive sensory experience yet created of what it would be like to break out of the oppressive, monotonous one psyche/one body rule that currently dominates life here on the Babylon Matrix. Notice that I’ve been careful to add the word “sensory” to my descriptions. The Ring trilogy and the Dune books are far more powerful evocations of the fully realized cultures of other worlds, but they are not sensory except in your ability to convert words into sensations. No question, but the 3D IMAX format is giving you the most sensory information about a world that is currently possible, and this film advances the leading edge of that possibility very dramatically. Don’t miss this opportunity, because there is nothing even currently in the works, as far as I know, that is going to equal it.”