Internet and Unconscious: The Psychic Interface
a term that is currently appearing with regularity in all sort of areas -
revived and used anywhere and everywhere from the marketing speak of a computer
corporation using "alchemy" lazily to describe a vague notion of combining art
and science, to the use of the term in a more scientific context referring to
the latest possibilities offered by nanotechnologies in the manipulation of
The general concept communicated by the term alchemy is the desire to turn
base metals into gold or the search for the "philosophers
stone". Even though this is accurate and is a key idea in alchemical
thinking and practice - it can sometimes distract rather than illuminate this
arcane, complex and often impenetrable subject where simple summaries of
ideas are not possible.
Alchemy and the Unconscious
From its earliest origins in ancient Egyptian ritual and early Greek science,
the practice of alchemy occupied a space where there was little or no
delineation between where religion and spirituality ended and what we now know
as science began.
Alchemy operated on a cusp between investigative science, chemistry,
philosophy and spirituality.
Even today scientists and chemists studying alchemical practices can find
themselves in direct opposition to the psychologists and artists examining the
same material - with some scientists dismissing any sort of psychological
interpretation, as alchemy from their position serves only as a route towards modern
It was the exhaustive studies and examinations by the psychologist Carl Jung
which re-evaluated the practice of alchemy. Jung believed the work of alchemists
and the wealth of alchemical texts to be a unique and
valuable resource of the history of the unconscious and workings of the human
He used this historical documentation to confirm his ideas of archetypes; a
belief that universal dream symbols are common to all humans;and the collective
unconscious; that the human psyche has a constancy which runs beyond the
existence of individuals and extends backwards and forwards across history.
He expanded his analytical psychology to encompass the interpretation of the
often surreal and obscure texts with the same system he had already applied to
the interpretation of dreams with his patients. He identified dreams symbols
from his patients who had no knowledge of alchemy to be remarkably consistent
and sometimes identical to those used in alchemical practice; symbols which he
recognised to be universal.
From this perspective Alchemy becomes a key historical documentation of the
unconscious - a means to look deep into the psyches of other eras and see
parallels with our own age.
Material-Spiritual or Physical-Psychic
From Jung's position, those practicing alchemy worked almost within a duality
or parallel practice which was essentially a combination of material and
spiritual or the physical and the psychic aspects of what they were doing.
The combination and subsequent observation of two chemicals reacting, or the
distillation of a chemical to gain a solid from a liquid by heating, was
essentially a scientific process. It was about the physical material and the
observation of one element changing to another or the distilling of impurities.
But alongside this there was a parallel psychic or unconscious interpretation
for the practitioner.
The reaction of chemicals was symbolic as
well as actual spawning drawings and surreal narratives which in turn generated
momentum to further experiments.
"Take some gold which is called the male of the Chrysokolla and a man who
has been kneaded together. The gold of the Ethiopian earth produces it from its
drops. A certain species of ant brings the gold to the surface of the earth and
enjoys it. Put him together with his wife of vapour, till the divine bitter
water comes out. When it has thickened, or coloured red with the juice of the
golden vine of Egypt, then smear over it the leaflets of the light bringing
goddess and also of the red copper or of the red Venus and then thicken it until
it coagulates into gold"
Olypiodorus 5Th century AD from The Divine Art
The means for the alchemist to describe an experiment and its results was
frequently poetic, dream like and often quite hallucinogenic. Drawings and texts
have an extraordinary power and the intensity of description often reads like a
dream or even a drug experience.
It seems that some descriptions actually were written under the influence of
plant hallucinogenics, but often it was the toxic effects of alchemists working
with lead and mercury which were at the root of their altered states. Rather
than these creating inaccuracies within this proto-scientific environment, these
deeper psychological experiences were fused with the physical experiments
with the results and descriptions having no clear line between creative
embellishment and actual experience.
"The lead is so possessed by devils and is so shameless that those who
want to learn about it fall into madness on account of their unconsciousness"
The alchemist Olypiodorus 5th century AD:
There was no clear delineation between either of these sides of alchemy - the
physical and psychic - one fed the other, symbiotic and interdependent they ran
All processes took on symbolic significance and the distillation of a
chemical was as much about a distillation or change in the alchemist's psyche as
within the vessel which contained the chemical itself.
If the alchemist is admittedly using the chemical process only
symbolically, then why does he work in a laboratory with crucibles and alembics?
And if, as he constantly asserts, he is describing chemical processes, why
distort them past recognition with his mythological symbolisms?
The Psychic Nature of Alchemical Work
Jung CW Psychology and Alchemy pg243
The processes of change and movement of physical things were also about
psychological change and movement of the alchemists mind - the apparatus and
vessels used for experiments were also spaces for a form of spiritual
development. The practice of alchemy and the dedication of those who followed it
became almost like the observation of a series of live dreams - guiding the
alchemist to the goal of universal and self knowledge.
Jung interpreted alchemical practice as a visible display of the process of
individuation the balancing between the conscious and
unconscious sides in the individual - a psychic equilibrium, a point where an
individual became whole and realised what Jung defined as their Self.
Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of
consciousness,a coming to consciousness that can take place only through
discrimination. Therefore an advance always begins with individuation, that is
to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path
through hitherto untrodden territory. To do this he must first return to the
fundamental facts of his own being, irrespective of all authority and tradition,
and allow himself to become conscious of his distinctiveness. If he succeeds in
giving collective validity to his widened consciousness, he creates a tension of
opposites that provides the stimulation which culture needs for its further
"On Psychic Energy" (1928). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the
Psyche. P. 111
Central to Jung's philosophy is the concept of the collective
unconscious. The collective unconscious is invisible intangible and over
arching a shared pool of symbols embedded in a universal psychic structure
common to all human beings - a concept common in Eastern
philosophies such as Buddhism.
Jung pinpointed that dreams are the space where there is a dialogue and
tangible relationship between the worlds of the personal and collective
unconscious' sharing this world where archetypal symbols guide us towards
self knowledge, understanding and balance our own psyches using collective
symbols or archetypes to form our dreams which guide and even determine
our waking states.
The Internet as a psychic space
The concentration of material in one place, put there by a mass of individual
will and desire makes the internet a place of intense numinosity. The presence
of the internet makes the concept of a collective unconscious tangible and
understandable and much less abstract.
It becomes a repository for ideas, emotions and knowledge; material both
known and unknown to us; conscious and unconscious. This material is beyond
individual awareness, and made up from every possible aspect of human existence
is a collective repository - it becomes what I call a psychic vessel.
People deposit material to, or receive material from, a shared space. This
process, and each of these individual actions, like the processes in alchemical
practice also operate in a duality, a parallel process, a
combination and fusion of the physical and the psychic.
The process of internet use becomes - in part - a dialogue with the
Self - the united whole, the complete psychic entity of ourselves both
personal, collective, conscious and unconscious - with the internet mirroring
the unconscious, working on both a collective and personal level - with use
affecting the process of individuation
The internet begins to function as an intermediary alchemical space as I call
it, a place of psychic gestation which hovers between a personal and
collective conscious and unconscious which maps a change and movement in the
psyche of the user.
"We must always ask now whether a mental phenomenon is conscious or
unconscious and, also, whether a "real" outer phenomenon is perceived by
conscious or unconscious means"
Maria Von Franz - Science and the Unconscious
Man and his Symbols
The processes of alchemy were explorations - both physical - the exploration
of chemical processes and also psychic - the relationship of these processes to
the psychic shifts in the alchemist and how the two related to each other. A
process of cause and effect. These changes were not just passive responses to
the material the alchemist was viewing, or the methods they were using but it
involved a process that could be described as interactive.
This was a psychic interactivity that worked on many levels - and
moved fluidly between the physical or material and a psychic or spiritual
reaction or interaction with it on the part of the practitioner.
"The double face of alchemy laboratory and library- corresponds to
the twofold nature of the individuation process - active participation in outer
reality and relationships together with a process of inner reflection."
Alchemy - An introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology M.L. Von
The process of using the internet can also free elements our unconscious via
a process of isolated dialogue. This is a 'dialogue' with our Self in the same
way the alchemist used physical processes, consciously or unconciously to
interpret their own states of mind. People use the internet in a sense of
physical isolation but with an intense relationship with their own unconscious.
Alongside the user physically interacting with equipment is a psychic
This psychic interface flows "between" the user and the machine beyond
buttons, controls, machines, navigational logic and hand-eye co-ordination and
even content. It is experiential and communicates with the unconscious of the
user; this is the interface of the gamer and the immersed user of the future.