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Supplemental Essay: The Transition From N-level Association to S-level Differentiation

This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

In the main essay on Sensing I said that N-level unconsciousness and association turn into S-level consciousness and differentiation. The following material will describe that transition in more detail, starting with the N level.


Recapping the N level

At the N level, everything was jumbled together. There were no opposites; everything is subject to the Associative mechanism, which joins and unites and melts everything into a single whole. As I said in the section on Separation of the World Parents, "Everything was compacted into cycles: Light alternated with darkness, hunger alternated with satiety; and they were interpreted as complementary parts of a single whole." Eric Neumann says that this results in a state of obsession and fascination


Neumann goes back to the Great Mother as a monolith incorporating conflicting attributes. He calls this a "state of bivalence": "The state of bivalence, which is innate in primitives and children, corresponds to a bivalent content composed of positive and negative elements." Neumann goes on to say that the "bivalent" content of such an object (or the bivalent way that the N level subject regards such an object) leads to obsession"The antithetical structure of such a content makes conscious orientation impossible and eventually leads to fascination. Consciousness keeps on returning to this content, or to the person who embodies it or carries its projection, and is unable to get away from it. New reactions are constantly released, consciousness finds itself at a loss, and affective reactions begin to appear. All bivalent contents that simultaneously attract and repel act in like manner upon the organism as a whole and release powerfully affective reactions, because consciousness gives way, regresses, and primitive mechanisms take its place. Affective reactions resulting from fascination are dangerous; they amount to an invasion by the unconscious."[1]

At the S Level

But with Separation of the world parents and the transition to the S-level, Differentiation becomes the rule. Fragmentation is carried out by conscious processes led by the eye: Neumann says, "This fragmentation of the symbol group tends in the direction of rationalization. The more complex a content is, the less it can be grasped and measured by consciousness, whose structure is so one-sided that it can attain to clarity only over a limited area. In this respect consciousness is built analogously to the eye. There is one spot where vision is sharpest, and larger areas can be perceived clearly only by continuous eye-movements. In the same way, consciousness can only keep a small segment sharply in focus; consequently it has to break up a large content into partial aspects, experiencing them piecemeal, one after the other, and then learn to get a synoptic view of the whole terrain by comparison and abstraction. [...] An advanced consciousness will therefore split the bivalent content into a dialectic of contrary qualities. Before being so split, the content is not merely good and bad at once; it is beyond good and evil, attracting and repelling, and therefore irritating to consciousness. But if there is a division into good and evil, consciousness can then take up an attitude. It accepts and rejects, orientates itself, and thus gets outside the range of fascination. This conscious bias towards one-sidedness is reinforced by the rationalizing processes we have mentioned."[2]

Carl Jung says much the same thing in The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious. Jung says that unconsciousness = non-differentiation, whereas consciousness = differentiation. We start from unconsciousness and non-differentiation at the N level; and we develop differentiation rather late, at the S level. "Everything unconscious is undifferentiated, and everything that happens unconsciously proceeds on the basis of non-differentiation—that is to say, there is no determining whether it belongs or does not belong to oneself. It cannot be established a priori whether it concerns me, or another, or both. Nor does feeling give us any sure clues in this respect."[3] Hence phenomena like participation mystique and projection of one's unconscious inner life to the outside world.


Meantime, Differentiation appears later, with the awakening of consciousness. Jung says, "Differentiation is the essence, the sine qua non of consciousness."[4]

Link: Return to Sensing (S)

~Posted October 19, 2023


[1] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), p. 327.

[2] Ibid., pp. 327-328.

[3] C.G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 7), trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1953), p. 206, par. 329.

[4] Ibid.

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