Collective Consciousness

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Consciousness is typically thought of, at least in Western culture, as an individual, subjective phenomenon. Extreme materialists view it as an epiphenomenal byproduct of purely physical processes. Dualists on the other hand tend to view consciousness as a distinct animating force or spirit that inhabits the physical body.

Beyond this however, many religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions also hold the notion of a collective consciousness or shared experience of being: the akashic field of theosophy and Eastern religion, the Christian body of Christ, Carl Jung's collective unconscious, Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere or philosophical pan-psychism. The notion is further reflected in a variety of mainstream cultural settings: company morale, team spirit, mood of the market, public sentiment, consumer taste.

Especially in the latter instances, the language of collective consciousness is often merely a quaint way of referring to the statistical behavior and beliefs of a group of individuals. Yet beyond this, some researchers point to an inter-subjective, transpersonal phenomenon that runs beyond the sum of individual group member actions. Perhaps this is most clearly illustrated in the flocking/schooling/herding behavior of animals lower on the evolutionary tree. The simultaneous action of such groups is difficult to account for without a unifying, collective guiding phenomenon. This would require that consciousness occur as field-like effect rather than by simple transmission of chemical and electrical impulses. A number of studies have found evidence for such an effect [citations needed].

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Author: Bill Miller