Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

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My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

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Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Archetypes

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by experiences, but we only have a limited supply of mental energy available to us to make sense of those experiences and make decisions about how we will react to what happens to us.

One of the key strategies we use to maximise our use of the mental energy is to use patterns. If we notice a pattern in what we experience, it is easier to understand, which needs less mind energy. For example, it is much easier to remember the telephone number 1234567 than 2546371.

The weather forecaster looks for patterns to predict tomorrow’s weather, a train timetable describes the pattern of train arrivals and departures so we can turn up to get on the train just before it arrives rather than waiting all day for it to come.

We are naturally attracted to repeating patterns. We learned this from our early ancestors who significantly increased their ability to survive by recognising the patterns about them. If they noticed that a sabre took tiger always goes to drink water at the river in the early afternoon, then they would live longer than a creature that didn't notice the same pattern.

We are attracted to shapes with symmetrical patterns because they are easier to understand. If we recognise one side of a person’s face, then we already have a good understanding of the whole face. We are attracted to dancing, where people move in unison forming patterns with their bodies, or to pictures that are symmetrical and patterned. We also drawn to music with regular patterns and rhyming words in poetry.

The down side of being attracted to patterns is that sometimes the pattern does not continue as we might expect from what we have already experienced. One day the sabre tooth tiger might come early, the train is late, or the weather forecaster gets it wrong.

Somewhere in our minds we hold the patterns we have recognised in the world about us. All of these patterns fit together to form a mental network, which we use to interpert the world about us. The patterns link together to create an internally consistent map of how we see and understand the word about us. This map is our worldview.

So, whenever we experience an event, a message gets sent in our brain to compare that event with the existing patterns within our worldview.

We use our memories in this way to help us formulate a plan of action as to how we will respond. Sometimes what we experience is not consistent with our existing worldmap. Then we have five possible responses. We can:

  • Ignore the new experience and stick with the map we have already created
  • Distort our perception of the experience to make it fit our existing map
  • Find the event so devastating that our map collapses, or more positively..
  • Accept the challenge it makes to our map and change it to accomodate the new experience
  • or, even be inspired by the event to make a quantum leap to another level of understanding.

We can see from this that our map, our worldview, is not fixed but changes and evolves throughout our life. Particularly when we are young, we make assumptions about the world, and the patterns we think we are seeing. Some assumptions will be right and help us to achieve our goals, while others will be incorrect and lead us away from our goals and would be better changed

We also tend to want to stick with the map we have rather than take on changes requiring alterations to our map. We are creatures of habit and resist taking on the unknown. Changing our world view feels like a loss of identity because the map and the patterns in it are central in the formation of our identity and our sense of who we are.

Some of the patterns we hold in our mind are personal patterns, while others are shared patterns. Our personal preference for food, music, art, tv programmes, cothing etc. all part of our personal map. It may be influenced by others but we control our personal patterns. Other patterns are shared, like driving on the left hand side of the road, stopping at a red traffic light, paying taxes, or waiting in a queue. We choose to accept these patterns because they help us get on with others, and help us to attain our personal goals.

Agreeing to stick to these particular patterns of behaviour reduces the level of conflict and allows the best co-operation. We have also developed roles in our society, so other people know what to expect of us. Some of us are schoolteachers, some of us are policemen, some of us are academics, and some of us are traffic wardens. We all know what it means when the warden appears on their little scooter and we haven't put money in the meter.

A part of our worldview is our cultural world view, formed by patterns which have special relevance to a particular group of people. In the Maori world tapu is important, so a person will always wash their hands after visiting a cemetery, lest the tapu be taken back amongst the living where it can cause harm. From a European perspective there is not the same need to wash our hands because tapu is not a cuturally significant concept.

Carl Jung created the idea of archetypes. These are shared mind patterns which have evolved in our collective minds from all our accumulated experiences of our social roles. He named the king, warrior, magician, and lover as four fundamental archetypes within the shared human mind that he called the collective unconscious.

Jung said that archetypes are universal, so they are a part of all of us, but they are expressed differently according to each particular culture. So, while a Maori person may talk of the four core archetypes as the rangatira, the wahine tapairu, the tohunga and the toa and experience them in their own way, they remain as universal forms of mental energy.

Because archetypes evolved over time, the social roles that have been with us the longest are the strongest ones in our psyche. The computer programmer and the jet engine mechanic have their archetypes, but they are not at all well formed in our joint psyche when compared to the king, warrior, magician, and lover, which all earlier societies knew.

What I discovered when I examined Jung's four archetypes was that each archetype corresponded to a crucial quality we need as humans. The king holds our sense of authority, the lover our compassion, the magician our wisdom, and the warrior our courage. Because the warrior, for example, exists as a collection of mental patterns within our mind, we can access our inner warrior to build our courage. And because the archetypes are shared we can access our archetypes as a group, for example as a spiritualist centre, to tap our inner reserves of courage through our shared warrior.

If any one of the archetypes is weak, all four will be affected. If we have courage, compassion and authority, but no wisdom, we will have a poor understanding of the situations we must make decisions about. If we lack compassion, we do not consider the effects of our actions on others and ourselves. If we lack authority, we will not make clear strong decisions, and if we lack courage we will not have the strength to carry out the decisions we have made.

Ken Wilber points out that there are other spiritual entities, which are often confused with archetypes. These are beings such as the mother goddess and higher spiritual beings. These come from universal spirit and are not socially created mental energy forms. They operated differently and are not perceived differently by other cultures.

The archetypes within us are at once ephemeral or ghostlike as well as being very real forces within our lives. We cannot put our finger on them, but they exert a major influence on our lives. They work on us individually and societally.  We keep them alive in our stories, especiially our myths. The more we understand and work with them positively and strongly, the more we have a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and for living full enriched lives.
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