‘CyPsy’ mind? Cyber super-ego and psychedelic id. Or digital surveillance, mass hallucinogens, and the new ‘black gold’ of the unconscious (2020)

by Federico Soldani – 17th Oct 2020

In this article, the hypothesis called CyPsy about the current transformation of the contemporary mind by capitalism is succinctly presented for the first time with this name and in its own right.

The basic idea was introduced for the first time in an online seminar in May this year.

The hypothesis about the current transformation of the mind by capitalism, here referred to as CyPsy mind, from the words cyber and psychedelic, is developed in some detail and further explained.

The association of these two words comes from the cyberdelic subculture, which I prefer to call for clarity, in a longer form, cyber-psychedelic.

Such subculture, of which former Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary became a guru, is about associating hallucinogens and digital technologies in various ways conceptually as well as practically (see, for instance, Leary’s 1990 From Psychedelics to Cybernetics, lecture tour or the Lecture at Sonoma State University in 1992 From LSD to Virtual Reality).

Leary went from the “turn on, tune in, drop out” psychedelic motto of the 60s to the cybernetic motto of the 90s “turn on, boot up, jack in” and famously proclaimed that the “PC is the LSD of the 1990s.”

When inviting young people to drop out in the 60s, including dropping out of politics, Leary said “don’t politic, don’t vote, these are old men’s games.” Of note, the average age of current 2020 U.S. presidential candidates Trump and Biden is above 75 years, two white men, including one of the oldest long-time politicians in Washington, for an electorate, the U.S. one, which is much younger, diverse, and famously seeks novelties.


Freud’s tripartite model of the human mind: id, ego, and super-ego

During the last part of his life, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, developed a tripartite conception of the mind, moving from the dichotomy conscious-unconscious to a model including three elements: [1] id or es, [2] ego, and [3] super-ego.

Psychoanalytical concepts about the mind, primarily Freudian and Jungian, have been extraordinarily influential in the Anglo-American world during the 20th century, see for instance the Bloomsbury Group in England (more here) and U.S. psychiatry and neurosciences.

“The mental apparatus” – Freud wrote – “is composed of an id which is the repository of the instinctual impulses, of an ego which is the most superficial portion of the id and one which has been modified by the influence of the external world, and of a superego which develops out of the id, dominates the ego, and represents the inhibitions of instinct that are characteristic of man.”

Contrary to the id, associated with passions, the ego represents reason and common sense; in Plato’s model of the soul what is called logistikon. Both the ego and reason go to sleep at night, when the unconscious id is left free in dreams, the normal man night-time equivalent of experiencing psychosis or delusions / hallucinations or madness during a time in which consciousness is disconnected from the external world.

The super-ego‘s function is one of internal surveillance and punishment.

The id, by being unconscious, can be seen from the point of view of the conscious ego as subject to automatic processes.


The ‘CyPsy’ hypothesis on the current transformation of the mind

In the CyPsy hypothesis on the mind here introduced, as the mind is currently transformed by cyber-psychedelic capitalism:

[A] the super-ego becomes largely externalized onto the surveillance digital system;

[B] the ego is dissolved via [1] technology in the digital collective, [2] drugs / pharmaceuticals (i.e., hallucinogens), and [3] modifications of cenesthesia related to a reduced need for human physical mobility (e.g., Japan’s hikikomori);

[C] the unconscious id becomes free of internal constraints, only to be regulated by the external substitution of the superego, which is the digital panopticon of surveillance capitalism making profits.

The internalized father-like law of the super-ego becomes external and digital and the ego is dissolved, which is the component that interacts with the external world.

This way the judiciary, either via codified or judicial law, which historically deals with external and objectified acts – not as much with thoughts, emotions or potential acts – based on the founding principles of Roman law and in the modern world on Motensquieu’s constitutional principles and balanced separation of powers in the external world, becomes increasingly unnecessary for social control or to make the consequences of human actions predictable.


Economy of the psychoanalytical mind

In my view, it is revealing to read the classic text ‘Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry and Law’ published in 1967 and authored by the legal scholars Katz (Yale), Goldstein (Yale), and Dershowitz (Harvard).

Dershowitz has recently received public attention on TV and digital media as a legal consultant to the 45th U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the 2019-2020 impeachment trial. He has been involved in public exchanges this year with psychiatrists claiming that he and the President presented a contagious “shared psychosis,” among other psychological insults directed toward the President and himself. Dershowitz, one of U.S. most prominent legal scholars, complained in 2020 that such language was indicative of American citizens having become unable to discuss democratically about political divergences and complained about such “psychiatrization” of politics.

Katz, Goldstein, and Dershowitz noted in their 1967 text how “from the economic standpoint psychoanalysis supposes that the mental representatives of the instincts have a charge (cathexis) of the definite quantities of energy, and that it is the purpose of the mental apparatus to hinder any damming-up of these energies and to keep as low as possible the total amount of the excitations with which it is loaded. The course of mental processes is automatically regulated by the ‘pleasure-unpleasure principle’; and unpleasure is thus in some way related to an increase of excitation and pleasure to a decrease. In the course of development the original pleasure principle undergoes a modification with reference to the external world, giving place to the “reality principle,” in accordance with which the mental apparatus learns to postpone the pleasure of satisfaction and to tolerate temporary feelings of unpleasure.


Plato vs. Freud, models of the mind and of reality

Freud’s tripartite model of the human mind (id, ego, and super-ego) was in part similar to and overlapping with Plato’s conception of the soul (appetite, reason and temper).

With a few differences, including a fundamental difference about whether reality was the one perceived by the senses, Freud’s reality principle (the ability of the mind to assess the reality of the external world, and to act upon it accordingly as opposed to acting on the pleasure or pleasure-pain principle), or whether such reality was illusory, Plato’s Cave allegory, and only the world of ideas in the hyperuranion was indeed the ultimate reality.

Interestingly, Jungian psychology emphasizes, just like the current rhetoric of the so-called Psychedelic Renaissance movement, the concept of ego-dissolution or ego death, which might be seen this way as embracing a conception of reality more in line with Plato than Freud. A man who had close interactions with both Jung and Leary was prominent Harvard psychologist Henry Murray, of whom we have already written in these pages.

The very concept of reality as the external world perceived by the senses is currently being challenged by neuroscientists who are changing the very definition of hallucinations. From the classic, textbook definition of hallucinations as “perception with no external stimulus / object,” still valid in psychiatry today, to the new idea of a control disfunction in our perceptions, which opens up the way to the disintegration of reality as we commonly conceive it at present.

See for instance 2019 Scientific American piece The Neuroscience of Reality. Reality is constructed by the brain, and no two brains are exactly alike, by Anil K. Seth of the University of Sussex, as opposed to 1977 Scientific American piece Hallucinations. These false perceptions, which can occur in any of the senses, turn out to be much alike from one person to another. Apparently they have their roots in excitations of the central nervous system, by Ronald K. Siegel of UCLA.

From the stable autonomous standard of ‘objective external’ reality (more democratic) to the stretchable, scientifically characterized, hence hierarchical standard of ‘control’ to define what reality ultimately is (less democratic).

A book has been recently published by a prominent neuroscientist in California and tellingly entitled The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes.


Plato, then Jung, Murray… and Leary

Timothy Leary in The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1964) (audiobook here), talks about the human eye as a “neurological camera”. As if evolution in the forest and the cave only gave us imperfect and quite primitive means to perceive the reality of the external world. This appears in line with Plato’s theory that we are trapped by our senses and that only by going beyond them we could liberate ourselves from the senses linking us to the cave of the external world and finally appreciate the ultimate reality, the one of pure ideas in what Plato called the hyperuranion.

“You will leave behind your ego, your beloved personality” – Leary said in the Psychedelic Experience – “the goal of this trip is ecstasy, to move outside of the boundaries of normal perception and consciousness into the far reaches of your nervous system” […] “beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them.” [..] “A few who we call mystics, saints, or Buddhas have made this experience endure.” […] “All the dangers which you have feared are unnecessary productions of your own mind.” […] “With your ego left behind you, your brain can’t go wrong.” […] “In order for your consciousness to flow beyond the confines of the normal body ego, it is necessary to undo the bonds which chain you to the external world, to dissolve the imprints your neurological camera has been carrying around. In other words, it is necessary to eliminate five major obstacles to a peaceful dying of the ego: anxiety, desire, anger, doubt, and inertia.”


Psychologist Leary inside, psychiatrist Bogdanov outside. Or chemical mysticism and technological harmony

With conceptions such as Leary’s, we ought to modify the internal world and put the ego peacefully to sleep permanently, which means with the unconscious id dominating what remains of the mind in a permanent sleep-like or dream-like state, possibly facilitated by hallucinogens.

The outside world must be left not to moral, social, legal or political means anymore but to an externalized super-ego via digital machines and algorithms, as psychiatrist and, along with Lenin, Bolshevism founder Alexander Bogdanov prefigured in his tektology, a science of general organization that was used for the USSR 5-year economic planning and is considered a precursor of systems theory and cybernetics, the basis of the current automation revolution now extended to the whole of society through the so-called Internet of Things.

According to Leary, who founded the International Federation for Internal Freedom, politics was not worth being interested in, as mentioned above, and was supposed to concern politicians only, not ordinary citizens.

Both law and politics would not appear to have a role in cyber-psychedelic capitalism.


Bentham, Freud and Foucault: ‘psychological pathology’ and the ‘panopticon’. The asylum model expands to the world

Many of the ideas on which Freud based his creation, psychoanalysis, were indeed earlier expressed by English jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, including: [1] pleasure and pain as the basis of all human behaviour; [2] determinism dominating psychological phenomena; [3] human impulses and motivations are overt as well as hidden; [4] hidden desires and motivations, especially of a sexual nature, are converted in other, more acceptable ones; and [5] in addition to the expression “psychological pathology” Bentham coined the concept and term of “psychological dynamics”.  

The inventor of the panopticon, a type of prison in which minimal control was needed and in which the prisoner internalized the possibility of being constantly under surveillance, Bentham adapted the panopticon from the original prison project to the asylum for the mentally insane

It is interesting to note how Bentham, who coined the expression “psychological pathology” and thought that all human behaviour was motivated by the person’s revealed or hidden “psychological dynamics”, in turn crucially based on “psychological pathology” was also the inventor of the idea of the panopticon. An association (Bentham being the inventor of both “psychological pathology” and of the panopticon) that in today’s psychiatricized surveillance capitalism is worth further study and reflection. To my knowledge, Bentham’s ideation of both concepts is noted here for the first time in relation to the current phenomena of surveillance capitalism and the psychiatrization of society.

Michel Foucault, who started his academic career by authoring Maladie mentale et Personnalité (1954) and later his Folie et Déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), in his famous book ‘Surveiller et Punir, Naissance de la Prison’ (1975) (translated in English as Discipline and Punish, the Birth of Prison, as apparently there was no word to translate properly the concept of ‘surveiller’, however one has been found recently for a Harvard professor’s book Surveillance Capitalism, almost half a century later) talked about Bentham’s panopticon and considered it conceptually as well as a metaphor for a certain manner of social control adopted in modern urbanized and industrialized societies.

Today’s society has been compared by many authors in recent years to a sort of digital panopticon.


The new ‘black gold’ of the 21st century: digital profits from unconscious energy sources

In order to get to the new ‘black gold’, a fundamental energy source for the digital economy according to the CyPsy hypothesis here presented, capitalism must get rid of our civilized Freudian psychoanalytical ego, which remains in the way between digital profits and the sheer energy of our biological unconscious id.

Characteristics of the ego, according to Katz, Goldstein and Dershowitz (1967), are: [1] consciousness; [2] sense perception; [3] the perception and expression of affect; [4] thought; [5] control of motor action; [6] memory; [7] language; [8] defense mechanisms and defense activity in general; [9] control, regulation, binding of instinctual energy; [10] the integrative and harmonizing function; [11] reality testing; and [12] the capacity to inhibit or suspend the operation of any of these functions and to regress to a primitive level of functioning. “Thought processes of the ego vary from logical, realistic, problem-solving to unrealistic, nonverbal daydreaming.”

The new ‘black gold’ of the twenty-first century digital economy might be seen therefore as residing in our id or es, our lower, animal, instinctual component of the so-called drives, impulses and passions, sex and aggression.


The false opposition of the ‘super-ego’ and ‘id’ narratives, and the common goal of ‘ego’ dissolution

Even in our current context of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and associated public measures taken by politics and publicized on the media, we find ourselves between two narratives, one that wants to survey and punish in a super-ego-like manner, Bogdanov style, not by chance using digital tracking technologies and claiming there is too much autonomy and individual freedom in the outside world (presented as too dangerous, complex and interconnected to leave to individual freedom), and the other one demanding total freedom, increasingly about the internal world, Leary style, including new freedoms such as so-called ‘freedom of consciousness’ or ‘decriminalization of nature’ via hallucinogens in an id-like manner.

Our conscious selves, or psychoanalytical egos, are stuck in the middle, presented with a false choice between two equally radical modalities working together for the same goal, inviting the ego to commit voluntary suicide for the greater good of the “planet” and of the “human race” as a whole in the name of the necessity for a mass ego-dissolution or ego-death, whether Jungian or more directly inspired by oriental philosophies.

In reality, a dissolution necessary, according to the CyPsy hypothesis on the mind here briefly presented, for 21st century capitalism digital profits.


“What seems a god is actually a devil, what seems a liberation is in fact an enslavement” – Aldous Huxley, “Downward Transcendence” (1952), later included in the posthumous collection of writings on psychedelic substances Moksha (1977)

“Cyberspace: A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation” – William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

Last Updated on October 23, 2020 by Federico Soldani

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