chapter  8
13 Pages

Refl ective process: the ego in neural context

Jung did not devote a great deal of attention to the nature of the ego. For the most part, he called it “the center of consciousness,” taking it for granted that we all know from everyday experience what having an ego is like (CW6: ¶706). His idea of egohood does not include unconscious operations, as Freud’s does. He calls ego “the subject of all personal acts of consciousness” that rest on somatic and psychic foundations, mostly unconscious (CW9ii: ¶1-3). Ego is responsible for making decisions, the free-will executive functions of consciousness (CW7: ¶87; CW8: ¶723f); but ego is most frequently described as a complex-that aggregate of ideas, images, and feelings of which we are conscious in any given moment. Jung emphasizes the fl uctuating and changeable nature of the ego-complex (CW8: ¶611). Ego is therefore a selective synthesis of matters that are important at the moment (CW8: ¶614), very similar to what contemporary investigators have been calling “working memory” (e.g. LeDoux 2002: 176). The task of the ego is simultaneously to adapt ourselves to the inner world of the self and to the outer world of physical and social necessity, while at the same time drawing upon relevant memories for guidance (CW8: ¶611). Its perspective is narrow:

The ego has scarcely the vaguest notion of the incredibly important regulative function of the sympathetic nervous system in relation to the internal bodily processes. What the ego comprehends is perhaps the smallest part of what a complete consciousness would have to comprehend.