by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. © 1997
The concept of symbiosis is extended to Jungian psychology, where the ego and Self are considered as two living symbiotic systems. The ego and Self appear to form a symbiotic relationship of continuous and obligate mutualism. The ego and psyche are both considered to be dissipative systems as defined in modern chaos theory. Dreams are shown to be feedback loops from the Self to the ego. Phase locking or entrainment is one possible outcome of the symbiotic relationship between the ego and the Self. During the first half of life, the ego develops relative independence. The primary feedback loop operating is the dream and the ego is drawn back to the Self during the second half of life through entrainment. Mental health, during the second half of life, can only be maintained by the ego becoming conscious of this relationship, and deliberately encouraging and enhancing it. An optimum level of conscious awareness is required because too much can result in inflation, while too little can result in alienation, and both of these extremes can easily become pathological. The ultimate goal of this symbiotic relationship is individuation.
Symbiosis is the mutual interdependency of two biological systems. We can extend this definition to the exterior cosmos (the universe as a biological system) and all interior living systems, as well as between all living systems themselves. The word symbiosis was coined in 1879 by the German botanist, Heinrich De Bary, to describe how different species of plants and animals associate with each other (Milne, Milne, & Russel, undated).
Two species living together in a symbiotic relationship can be mutually benefited in the areas of food, shelter, substratum, or transport. Such associations are called mutualism. Furthermore, these relationships can be continuous or transitory, obligate, or facultative (Clarke, 1954). The most intimate symbiotic relationships are continuous and obligatory. An example of this kind of relationship is the sea anemone that grows on the shell of the hermit crab.
A second relationship exists that is mutually beneficial but intermittent and therefore less intimate. Examples of temporary symbiosis are birds that alight on the backs of large grazing animals and pick off the ticks and other parasites, such as the cowbird in America and the white heron in Africa. Another example is the pollination of flowers by bees, moths, and butterflies.
A third symbiotic relationship, called commensalism, is one that is beneficial only to one member. Commensal relationships can be mutalistic (not harmful to the other) or parasitic (harmful to the other) and can be continuous or intermittent. Tropical orchids and hanging mosses, which use trees as points of attachment, are examples of permanent commensalism. Temporary commensalism is displayed by trees that are inhabited by monkeys, squirrels, tree frogs, and snakes, as well as birds and insects. One interesting example here is the elf owl that nests only in abandoned holes made by the Gila woodpecker in the stems of large Sahuaro cactus found in and around Arizona (Clarke, 1954).
Modern cosmologists suggest that symbiosis played an important part in the evolution of our earth. Boslough (1992), for example, describes Einstein's relativity theory, as defining the relationship between space-time and mass, as one in which "space-time told mass how to move, and mass told space-time how to bend" and he concludes that "space-time was the master and mass the slave in the symbiotic relationship that shaped the cosmos" (p. 168).
Boston University microbiologist, Lynn Margulis, has theoretized that the basic cell found in today's plants and animals made its appearance about 2.2 million years ago. According to her theory, this cell was not the result of genetic mutation, or of survival of the fittest, but rather, of the process of feedback resulting from symbiosis (Margulis & Sagan, 1986). Most biologists now agree with Margulis that evolution advanced rapidly when microbes coupled symbiotically in response to the production of oxygen in the atmosphere.
To protect itself from the oxygen being generated in the air, one of the cyanobacteria formed a nuclear membrane around its DNA, creating the first nucleated cell (Briggs & Peat, 1989). While trying to fight off the new oxygen breathers, the host organism ended up forming feedback links with the invader which allowed the host to live in an oxygen-rich atmosphere. The invaders, in turn, were benefited by a protective supportive environment (Margulis & Sagan, 1986). This symbiotic mating between two bacterial strains lies at the core of all living organisms. We may conclude, then, that all life is "a form of cooperation, an expression of feedback arising out of the flux of chaos" (Briggs & Peat, 1989, p. 156).
The idea of symbiosis, as the key to evolution, is not all that new. Wallin (1927), for example, discussed the importance of symbiosis in the process of evolution and coined the term symbionticism which he proposed as "the fundamental factor or the cardinal principle in the origin of species" (p. 8).
More recently, the idea of cooperation rather than competition is also favored by Goodwin (1994) who says,
The realization of the significance of microbial ecosystems for the health of our planet was a major component in the elaboration of the Gaia hypothesis by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. Analyzing the dynamic stability of life on earth as an interconnected web of interactions between organisms and their physical environment, they provide precisely the right conceptual structure for a treatment of the evolution of our planet in terms of complex nonlinear dynamic processes, its states of stability, and its points of change. (p. 180)
Goodwin (1994) points out that patterns of relationships and interactions are more important to evolution than competition. "The problem of origins requires an understanding of how new levels of order emerge from complex patterns of interaction and what the properties of these emergent structures are in terms of their robustness to perturbation and their capacity for self-maintenance" (p. 181). In chaos theory, such "emergent structures" are called dissipative structures.
Some Findings of Chaos Theory
Webster defines a system as "A group of things or parts connected in some way so as to form a whole." It is also, "The body, or a number of bodily organs functioning as a unit." Modern thermodynamics teaches that there are two main types of systems: open and closed. Closed systems are those which are independent of their environment. Open systems are dependent on their environment. Most dynamic systems, and all living systems, are open. Every human being, for example, is an open system (Atkins, 1984).
According to modern chaos theory, every complex system, and especially every living system (living systems are usually referred to as self-organizing or self-generating systems) is also a dissipative structure. Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1977 for his work on dissipative structures, which he defined as any structure that takes on and dissipates energy as it interacts with its environment (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984). A dissipative system, unlike one that conserves energy, gives rise to irreversible processes (Nicolis & Prigogine, 1989). Prigogine (1980) gives his "master equation" for the formation of a dissipative structure as:
This equation indicates that any change of a dissipative structure over time involves looking at both the internal effects inside volume V (within the system itself) and the migration of particles via exchanges with the outside world (in the system's environmental interface).
All systems that exhibit disequilibrium and self-organization are dissipative and have a dissipative structure (Briggs and Peat, 1989, p. 138). Thus, not only our physical body itself is such a structure, but every organ and cell as well. The term itself expresses a paradox, because dissipative suggests falling apart or chaos, while structure suggests organization and order. Dissipative structures are those which are able to maintain identity only because they are open to flows of energy, matter, or information from their environments (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984). More recently, Prigogine (Nicholis & Prigogine, 1989) expanded his theory of structures to include whole systems, which he has labeled dissipative systems.
Dynamic systems, that are dissipative, operate in an area called phase space. Phase space is "a mathematically constructed conceptual space where each dimension corresponds to one variable of the system" (Kellert, 1993, p. 7). Conservative systems are reversible in time, but dissipative systems are irreversible. Dissipative systems operate in a phase space, much like conservative systems, but usually have an infinite number of dimensions in which the various properties are distributed in space. Only three variables are required for chaotic behavior in a dynamic system (Baker, 1991).
Haken (1977/1983) has shown mathematically that instead of addressing each of countless atoms in a complex dissipative system undergoing a phase transition, we can address their modes by means of an ordering parameter. This has the mathematical result of drastically lowering the degrees of freedom to only a few parameters. Haken (1987) also demonstrates how these ordering parameters guide complex processes in self-organizing systems. When a system ordering parameter guides one or more subsystems, they are said to slave the subsystems, and this slaving principle is the key to understanding self-organizing systems.
Movement of a system's behavior toward some final state space, via the slaving principle, is shown graphically in terms of an attractor. All dissipative systems move toward global attractors (Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989). Çambel (1993) says,
The term "attractor" derives from the observation that if a system in phase space is near an attractor, it tends to evolve towards the state represented by that attractor. Dynamical systems are attracted to attractors the way fireflies are attracted to light. (p. 59)
According to Abraham (1987), the observed states in which a dynamical system functions are its attractors. In this sense, all living systems grow toward adulthood as their attractor, and we can consider maturity itself to be a slaving principle for living systems.
The Goodness of Symbiosis
The symbiotic relationship is generally, but not always, beneficial for both partners. Lincicome (1971) states, "Parasitism, one of life's great phenomena, possesses a quality of goodness that has largely been overlooked because man has been so possessed with the disease aspects of this association" (p. 139) and he then detailed his goodness of parasitism hypothesis. Evidence of this goodness includes increases in body weight, longevity, and several important chemicals for both parasite and host.
An often overlooked example of goodness is sex. Sex is an expression of symbiosis, which is sometimes called the "mix-match principle," where two organisms combine, react to each other, redefine themselves, and readapt to each other and to their environment, and then something new emerges. Sex is thus an expression of the cooperation between complex living systems (Briggs and Peat, 1989).
Central to a full understanding of dissipative systems, and especially those in symbiotic relationships, is the concept of system feedback (Stear, 1987). Complex systems with feedback loops that allow for self-renewal are called autopoietic structures. One example of a simple, self-organizing system is a whirlpool. Another example is the red spot on the planet Jupiter. Other systems, such as the human body, can be extremely complex (Briggs and Peat, 1989).
System feedback is a loop wherein information of some kind is fed back into the system. In this way, the system can respond to its environment. There are two main kinds of loops: Negative loops control and/or regulate. Positive loops amplify.
A typical example of a feedback system is shown in Figure 1. Input into a system, together with an unknown quantity labeled "disturbances," results in an output which is fed back into the system again.
A simple feedback loop, a heater and a thermostat is shown in Figure 2. The heater kicks on, heating up a room. Heat, the output of the heater, serves as input to the thermostat. At a certain critical temperature, the thermostat tells the heater that the room is warm enough. The heater, receiving this feedback information through an electrical connection, shuts itself off. After a while, the thermostat notices that the room has cooled to a specific temperature, and notifies the heater. The heater kicks on again. The information traveling from the heater to the thermostat and back again is a feedback loop.
There are many such loops. When you are hungry, your stomach growls to let you know it wants to be fed. You eat. Your stomach tells you that it is full. You stop eating. The information that circles between your stomach and brain and back again is a feedback loop.
Research has shown that the human brain, a living and dissipative system, is also full of feedback loops. Neuroscientists have found visual memory pathways through six brain areas: sensory area, amygdala, hippocampus, diencephalon, prefrontal cortex, and basal forebrain. All of these areas have interconnecting feedback loops (Briggs and Peat, 1989).
The Autopoietic Paradox
The Autopoietic Paradox states that the more independent a system, the more feedback loops it requires (Briggs and Peat, 1989).
This is a paradox because, by definition, an independent system does not require environmental feedback. However, the paradox holds because in real life, there truly are no closed or independent living systems. All living systems are open, and all living systems have feedback loops. A living system can only appear to be independent, by knowing exactly what is going on around it, and this implies the need for feedback loops. According to Stear (1987), all living systems are governed by feedback loops serving as regulatory processes.
The process of phase locking occurs whenever the chaotic actions of the individual shifts to the ordered actions of a collective system - when individual behavior shifts to a collective behavior (Briggs and Peat, 1989). According to Garfinkel (1987),
The word entrainment is used to refer to any situation in which small interactions among the individuals of a system have the effect of confining the total state of the system to some limited region of the global state space. In this most general sense, it is simply motion that is not ergotic - that does not wander all over the state space. (p. 200).
Phase entrainment is sometimes called phase locking or synchronization. Garfinkel (1987) lists the following examples of phase entrainment:
1. Populations of crickets entrain each other to chirp coherently.
2. Populations of fireflies flash together.
3. Yeast cells display coherence in glycolytic oscillation.
4. Insects show coherence in their cycles of eclosion (emergence from the pupal to adult form).
5. Populations of women living together may show phase-entrainment of their ovulation cycles.
6. Populations of secretory cells, such as in the pituitary, pancreas, and other organs, release their hormones in coherent pulses.
Garfinkel (1987) also discusses the importance of global attractors:
In a model of cooperation as entrainment, global attractors model overall equilibria ... The global attractor model of the emergence of cooperation displays the characteristic features of the self-organization paradigm" (p. 206).
Thus for two self-organizing or dissipative systems in symbiotic relationship, the cooperation between them establishes a global attractor which draws them toward their common goal.
The Symbiotic Relationship of Ego and Psyche
Not only is our body a dissipative system, but our ego and psyche as well. The Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung, designated the ego as an ego-complex because of the numerous components and processes with which it is comprised. He taught that the components of the ego-complex are held together by the gravitational force of their relation to consciousness (Pascal, 1992).
The ego, the subject of consciousness, comes into existence as a complex quantity which is constituted partly by the inherited disposition (character constituents) and partly by unconsciously acquired impressions and their attendant phenomena ... Analytical psychology differs from experimental psychology in that ... it is far more concerned with the total manifestation of the psyche as a natural phenomenon - a highly complex structure ... (Jung, 1954/1991, pp . 91- 92).
For Jung, the structure of the psyche, of which the ego is but one component, is not static but dynamic and is a self-regulating system (Jacobi, 1973). A simplified model is shown in Figure 3.
This is a simplified model of the psyche according to Jung. The ego is situated at the center, and is surrounded by the personal and
collective unconscious. The ego is characterized by complexes, and the unconscious by archetypes. Archetypes, like the psyche, pre-exist the ego (Jung, 1959/1990).
Figure 4 shows a more complicated model. Here the center of the psyche is the Self, balanced by the ego and shadow. This model illustrates the open nature of Jung's view of the psyche. At the conscious end, the persona acts as a filter for the ego to the external world, while at the unconscious end, the archetype of the anima-animus acts as a filter to the collective unconscious. Figures 3 and 4 are elaborations of models presented by Jacobi (1973) and illustrate the complex dynamic nature of the psyche as defined by Jung.
From the foregoing, it seems reasonable to assume that the principles of chaos theory relating to complex dynamical systems, and especially to dissipative and self-organizing systems, should be applicable to the ego and psyche as described by Jung. Both the psyche, and its complex subsystem, the ego, are dissipative systems and they operate in a cooperative symbiotic relationship.
Figure 5 shows the first of three main stages of this relationship--just after birth. Edinger (1973) points out that "The Self is the ordering and unifying center of the total psyche (conscious and unconscious) just as the ego is the center of the conscious personality" (p. 3). "I have defined the self as the totality of the conscious and the unconscious psyche, and the ego as the central reference-point of consciousness" (Jung, 1963/1989, p. 110). The Self is the integrated or total psyche acting as a unitary system. The ego begins within the psyche as one with, and barely distinguishable from, the Self. Here the ego is present only as a potentiality. Edinger (1973) calls this the "state of primary ego-Self identity" (p. 6).
Figure 6 shows the second main stage of this relationship. Here the ego is emerging as a separate system. A residual ego-Self identity still remains (in the overlapped area between the two). In this stage, the ego has developed self-consciousness, and has formed a sense of identity. This stage occurs, for most people, during middle age (Edinger, 1973).
According to this model, "ego-Self separation, and growing consciousness of the ego as dependent of the Self, are actually two aspects of a single emergent process continuous from birth to death" (Edinger, 1973, p. 6). The third stage begins what Jung called individuation. Jung viewed the individuation process as the ultimate goal of life. Individuation "is a process of maturation or unfolding, the psychic parallel to the physical process of growth and aging" (Jacobi, 1973, p. 107). The ego's separation process takes place during the first half of life. After this, it's task is to return back into the Self and integrate it. "The integration of the self is a fundamental problem which arises in the second half of life" (Jung, 1954/1985, p. 265).
Because of symbiosis, under certain conditions individual behavior of a subsystem can effect the collective or overall behavior of the entire system. For example, when the heart stops beating, the entire body dies. The death or retirement of a corporation president can effect the organization of which he was but one member. This is also true of the ego, whose behavior can effect the entire psyche (Self).
The more complex a system, the greater the number of fluctuations that threaten its stability. Yet complex systems somehow avoid chaos. This is due in part to the stabilizing effects of various diffusion processes, and on the system's ability to communicate (Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989).
Communication assists stability while fluctuations assist instability. The net effect is a competition of tension which establishes a stability threshold for the system (Prigogine, 1980). This suggests that every psyche has a stability threshold, within which the ego functions in a "normal" manner, and beyond which ego functioning becomes pathological. Jung (1937) summed up the symbiotic relationship when he wrote,
The unconscious can realize itself only with the help of consciousness and under its constant control. At the same time consciousness must keep one eye on the unconscious and the other focussed just as clearly on the potentialities of human existence and human relationships. (p. 39)
This statement implies that the Self benefits by its relationship with the ego. If so, then the relationship is one of continuous and obligate mutualism.
The primary feedback loop, operating in this system, is the dream. Dreams are the daily feedback that the ego receives from the Self. The ego is effected by dreams "mostly in more or less distinct alterations of mood" (Jung, 1974, p. 24). Jung taught that dreams serve as a "compensating function of the unconscious" (Jung, 1974, p. 30). This suggests that the Self creates dreams as an attempt to maintain balance within the psyche. It is the primary means of communication of the Self, and to ignore dreams is to court psychological chaos within the psyche. As feedback loops, dreams can be either positive (happy, peaceful, or encouraging dreams) or negative (nightmares or recurring disturbing dreams).
The need for separation of the ego is discussed in great length by Jung. "If the ego is dissolved in identification with the self, it gives rise to a sort of nebulous superman with a puffed-up ego and a deflated self" (Jung, 1973, p. 135). Jung (1959/1978) speaks of the necessity for a "critical line of demarcation" between ego and Self (p. 23). This strongly suggests the "stability threshold" described in chaos theory for dissipative systems.
On the other hand, if the ego can assimilate its dreams and learn from them, it can be healed of psychological problems because "Integration of the unconscious invariably has a healing effect" (Jung, 1956/1976, p. 433). Moreover, The Self is able to accept all elements of psychic life, and "It is this sense of acceptance of the Self that gives the ego its strength and stability" (Edinger, 1974, p. 40). Failure of the ego to assimilate this attribute of the Self results in low self-esteem.
According to Edinger (1974), when the ego separates too far from the Self, a sense of alienation develops. Therefore, "some contact between ego and Self must be re-established" (p. 57). This suggests a need for the ego to find a suitable ordering parameter. Edinger (1974) views the developmental process as fourfold: (1) inflation (the awakening ego is too close to the Self); (2) alienation (the ego has separated too far from the Self); (3) restitution (the ego returns and re-connects to the Self); and (4) individuation (the ego and Self in a mutually harmonious relationship). Individuation is the ideal symbiotic relationship in which the ego is directly related to the Self without being identified with it.
Inflation is shown in Figure 5. Figure 7 shows the ego and Self separate (alienation) yet touching (restitution). Individuation is shown in Figure 6, but only after the alienation and restitution have been undergone. Figure 6 illustrates the ego emerging from the Self during the first half of life. During the second half of life, Figure 6 illustrates the ego's integration and mutual cooperation with the Self.
Individuation is not achieved in the estrangement of the ego, but rather in its return to the Self as a symbiotic partner. The Self apparently uses the slaving principle to move the ego toward individuation during the second half of life. According to the autopoietic paradox, although the ego at middle age may appear relatively stable and independent, it is nevertheless in a dependent symbiotic relationship with the Self. As such, its independence is an illusion. Sooner or later, it must either move toward integration as an attractor established by the Self for this purpose, or fall prey to an "alienation neurosis" which usually leads to an inferiority complex (Edinger, 1974, p. 56).
All living systems are dependent upon cooperation, and in a sense, life creates the conditions required for its own existence. The theory of symbiosis emphasizes the need for awareness of our environment, and for taking good care of our environment. The science of ecology, and modern environmental impact statements, required by most governments for new projects, are the result of society's intuitive awareness of symbiosis. One important environment of the ego, our conscious personality, is the Self which is largely unconscious. The ego and Self form a symbiotic relationship within the psyche, and our mental health can only be maintained by our becoming conscious of this relationship, and deliberately encouraging and enhancing it. An optimum level of conscious awareness is required: too much can result in inflation, while too little can result in alienation, and both of these extremes can easily become pathological.
During the first half of life, the ego withdraws from the Self, as if pulled by an attractor. This process, if allowed to go too far, results in a sense of alienation and estrangement which usually has negative effects on human behavior. According to Jung, another attractor is available which can pull the ego back into the Self during the second half of life. This return is the individuation process during which the ego integrates the unconscious portion of the Self, thus alleviating the alienation and finding fulfillment and satisfaction.
The ego and Self form a symbiotic relationship within the psyche that is one of continuous and obligate mutualism. The primary feedback loop operating is the dream which can be either positive or negative as needed.
During the first half of life, the Self undergoes a sacrifice to benefit the ego. This allows the ego to emerge from the Self as a self-conscious dissipative system whose environmental interface is both inward (with the Self) and outward (with the world). During the second half of life, the ego must sacrifice its dominance to benefit the Self. According to Harding (1947/1973), "wholeness of the psyche is to be attained only through the sacrifice of ego dominance and replacement of it by a new center of control, the Self" (p. 411). The ultimate goal of the symbiotic relationship between the ego and Self, is individuation.
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