The Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis
Through a Glass Darkly
Most of us sense that the human species is hurtling toward some sort of event horizon. Images of apocalypse, extinction and metamorphosis haunt the collective imagination, but most efforts to look through the dark glass of the future and see what’s up ahead have been dismal failures.
Looking through a glass darkly usually means that you see a distorted reflection of yourself--your projections and unconscious expectations, the distorted artifacts of your psyche misconstrued as images of the future. Later we’ll examine the psychology of prophecy and why it has earned its reputation as the most fallible of human enterprises. All of us have seen people of various persuasions--religious, New Age, techno-futurist, etc.--step into the carnival funhouse-mirror world of future gazing. When they emerge it always seems to be with breathless enthusiasm to tell us all about the definitive vision they have had. But unless we are also newly emerged from the carnival funhouse we can’t help but to think: What, another one? We’ve seen it all before, one after another steps out of the funhouse sure that they’ve seen things right, and yet they all see something a bit different, and whenever they attach a date to it they are almost always proven wrong.
Did anyone notice a “King of Terror” coming from the sky in 1999 as Nostradamus predicted? And where is Edgar Cayce’s “Ring of Fire” predicted for the same end of the millennium that brought us nothing more dramatic than the revelation that Y2K was a big, fat wet cardboard dud? And for that matter why do we still hear about the whole phantasmagoria of Revelations when it was scheduled to happen in the First Century AD? Prophecies come toward us like a fleet of titanium alloy submarines confidently ready to expose the abyssal depths of the ocean with the most advanced and unerring sonar. But prophecy’s service and reliability record is more like that of a fleet of iron and wood submarines with coal-fired engines and screen windows. The broken hulls of disconfirmed prophecies litter the ocean floor like iron turds, while up above people step aboard the latest and greatest iron and wood submarines as confidently as ever.
And what are we to make of Carnival 2012, a frenzy of absurdities that has about as much to do with the Maya as French fries have to do with the French. It has become little more than the latest opportunity for present-day prophesiers to take their turn at history’s most unreliable enterprise. For fifteen years I’ve watched the archaeoastronomical insights of my friend and colleague, John Major Jenkins (who has uncovered something possibly very significant about that point in the Mayan calendar---see "Carnival 2012: A Psychological Study of the 2012 Phenomenon and the 22 Classic Pitfalls and Blind Spots of Esoteric Research") become drowned out by the nonsensical cacophony of Carnival 2012. Later we’ll attempt to take a look at both 2012 and the Carnival 2012 phenomena. But before we walk past the Carnival 2012 funhouse (leaving our extended tour for later), a few nuggets of sanity to tide us over. First, the Mayan calendar does not end in 2012. Like all calendars it is perpetual. A great cycle of time ends in 2012 according to the Maya, but the calendar continues. Second, no one has ever found a Mayan prophecy about 2012. The actual, ancient Maya did not predict any particular happening in 2012 except the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next. The whole 2012 end-of-the-world song-and-dance comes from people, usually of Christian ancestry, projecting their unconscious, ancestral apocalyptisism onto the unsuspecting artifact of another culture. “Mayan” has become a kind of brand name, a cool icon that people can put in front of whatever stares back at them from the carnival funhouse mirror. Mayan culture has less to do with them than Cuban Marxism has to do with the guy in your local coffee shop wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. Sure it's become a tasteless, if accepted, pop culture tendency to appropriate meaningful items and make them into a bit of image or word bling, but at least it is usually done blatantly. For example, no one buys a Zen Republic Energy Drink® thinking that they are imbibing Zen Buddhism or supporting a republic.
But what if there were an image of the future, a primordial image, low resolution but so brilliant that it glitters from the misty depths of countless dreams, and shimmers from behind the distorting mirrors of religious traditions, the fever dreams of saucer cults, the futuristic imaginings of science fiction, fantasy and other artifacts of contemporary mythology? What if an essential image of the future were overlaid, like an iridescent hologram, onto everything we perceive? If we tear off a little piece of the hologram, we see a very blurry version of the original image. This little piece of the hologram has the Rorschach-like blur of an image about to come into focus. The iridescent blur of the almost-image invites the psyche to confabulate various visions. Is it a beast with seven heads? A Ring of Fire? A King of Terror? Something cool and kind of Mayan? Every projection onto the blurry hologram is a bit different, but all of them are right about one thing: There is something there, some sort of image, blurry though it might seem. The image squirms and scintillates before us, struggling to come into focus. If we are too attached to our little piece of the hologram, what comes into focus is our projection onto the hologram. Perhaps we got our projection from a religion, a tradition, a self-proclaimed prophet, or perhaps it came right out of our own imagination.
But there is another way to look at the hologram. Instead of gazing into little pieces of it, we can look at the pieces as a vast mosaic. All of the pieces are refractions of a single primordial image. If we don’t fixate on any one of them, but allow them to flow back together we may see an image coalesce and emerge from the larger hologram. The image that emerges from the unfractured hologram is more than the superimposition of individual projections; it is a primordial image of a structure that exists within the potential of our species right now. This image is the seed of the future we are hurtling toward. I call this primordial image of the future the Singularity Archetype. (Note: For now I emphasizing the evolutionary side of the archetype. Later I will develop what it means for the life of the individual.)
The Singularity Archetype is a resonance, flowing backward through time, of an approaching Singularity at the end of human history. Since the Singularity Archetype is a ubiquitous hologram, you don’t have to see it through my eyes, through a tradition or the quirky gaze of any particular individual or group. The Singularity Archetype is like a mote of light you can see reflected in the eyes of multitudes. It is a mote of light reflecting in your eyes and mine right now. Some label this dancing mote of light 2012, others call it Rapture, or a variety of other names and labels.
If we allow the primordial image to reflect off of every sort of eye, then the reflection of each eye becomes like a pixel in a vast hologram.1 The reassembled image subsumes the idiosyncrasies of particular reflections and coalesces them into the Singularity Archetype. The Singularity Archetype reflects back to us an essential image of the event horizon we are hurtling toward. Essential images do not provide dates or specifics, so it is not like reading a book, but more like seeing roughly formed elements within a future that is also largely unformed. As we come to see and understand the Singularity Archetype as a roughly formed template of our likely future and not a specific culture-bound prophecy, we find our free will enhanced. We need to be aware of the formed elements of our future--death, taxes, evolutionary transformation--but we also need to recognize the unformed aspects which give us the room to make choices. Recognizing that the future has both formed and unformed elements, we step out of the deterministic world of prophecy and its linear countdown calendars. We also stop getting dazzled and bedazzled by what was chiseled in stone or written in sacred books long ago and far away about a primordial image we can find reflected in our own eyes right now.
I don’t claim that my vision and understanding of the Singularity Archetype is the definitive one, or that my mind is entirely free of distorting projections. My request is that you do what you would no doubt do anyway: scan every aspect of what I present about the Singularity Archetype with your penetrating inner truth sense. I believe your inner truth will reveal a holographic image already inside of you. You may discover aspects of the Singularity Archetype I have distorted or failed to locate. If so, your understanding can contribute to bringing the image into sharper focus, an added clarity for which I will be forever grateful.
The Intensifying Metabolism of Evolution
The metabolism of the species, and therefore the metabolism of events on this planet, has heated up to a feverish intensity. According to some estimates there are more human beings alive right now than all the human beings that have ever died. The evolutionary process of our species seems to be heading rapidly toward critical mass. Consider how much change has occurred in just the last fifty or one hundred years. The most conservative of predictions is that we are hurtling toward dramatic changes on every level. But how can we contemplate the future development of our own species in a planetary situation that boils over with an infinite array of variables? And how can we possibly transcend the inherent subjectivity of being fully vested members of the species we're trying to contemplate?
To use the imperfect hologram analogy again, if the whole species is a hologram, the most logical subdivision is the single individual. Each of us is one of six and a half billion pixels comprising the species hologram. But unlike the pixels of a 2D image, each pixel, like each part of a fractal, recapitulates the whole. Switching metaphors to Russian nesting dolls--the largest doll is the species, the next smallest doll would be a single individual and if we open that doll up we find the smallest doll, a single strand of double helix DNA.
So if an entire species seems like an unwieldy object of contemplation, and DNA seems a bit too minute and hard to unravel in a single book, let’s speculate about a much more manageable sample, the future of a single individual. One rich source of information about our individual would be biometrics--we could have his DNA analyzed, and ask him to submit to MRIs and every sort of scan and medical test. Maybe we could even get him to accept wearing all sorts of sensors, astronaut style, so we could see how his blood pressure, heart rate, galvanic skin response and so forth fluctuate moment-by-moment. We might find out something very relevant about our individual’s future, especially if we found something drastically wrong--a terminal disease or a misfiring brain perhaps. However, for reasons we'll discuss later, I am not of the persuasion that believes a human being is reducible to wetware. If I were limited to a single source of information about an individual, I would not consider biometrics to be the most primary. A source of information I would consider primary would be our individual’s dreams.
For three or so hours a day our individual’s psyche generates its own universe, a parallel dimension where the deepest aspects of his being are given form. What turns up in these dreams could range from that which is at the very surface of his waking personality to the vast undiscovered continents of his unconscious.
If dreams are the most primary source of information for an individual, what source of information would have the analogous function for a species? Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung provided the answer that myths are to the collective what dreams are to the individual. A myth, therefore, is a collective dream, a glimpse into the primordial depths of our species.
The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
Jung and his colleagues have provided us with definitive evidence of a collective unconscious. From this collective layer of the unconscious emerge the great, primordial images Jung referred to as the "archetypes." Archetypes are “innate universal psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic themes of human life emerge.”2 Across cultures and periods we find endless variations of these archetypes, such as the Self, Persona, Shadow, Hero, Great Mother, Trickster, Devil, etc. The archetypes may manifest in anyone but often show up most vividly in the fertile psyches of artists, poets, mystics, writers, shamans and prophets. Through such individuals the archetypes become myths and diffuse throughout a culture.
Edward Edinger, a Jungian analyst who wrote eloquently about the nature of archetypes, points out that although we can study archetypes as patterns, they are also living, dynamic agencies. Similarly, we could take a smear of human blood, dry it out on a glass slide, stain it, and illuminate it on the stage of a powerful binocular microscope where we could observe the structure of the erythrocytes and leukocytes. But while we’re looking at all the intriguing structures frozen in time on the glass slide, we need to also have a stereoscopic vision in which we see not only the slide but the inner reality of our bodies where blood exists as trillions of living cells pulsing through our veins and arteries. Archetypes are not merely things that we observe, they are living agencies as active, pulsing and alive within our psyches as the blood that is, pulsing and alive, coursing within our bodies. Edinger reminds us that the archetype,
“is a living organism, a psychic organism that inhabits the collective psyche. And the fact that an archetype is both a pattern and an agency means that any encounter with an archetype will have these two aspects.
"As a pattern, we can encounter an archetypal reality and speak about it as an object--an object of our knowledge and understanding. But as a dynamic living agency it appears to us as subject, as an entity like ourselves with intentionality and some semblance of consciousness.”
Jung, in Answer to Job, describes the archetype as follows:
“they are spontaneous phenomena which are not subject to our will, and we are therefore justified in ascribing to them a certain autonomy. They are regarded not only as objects but as subjects with laws of their own. [. . .] If that is considered, we are compelled to treat them as subjects; in other words, we have to admit that they possess spontaneity and purposiveness, or a kind of consciousness and free will.”
Jung rejected the idea that the human psyche was born as a blank slate, a smooth, unpredisposed topography waiting to be carved by the forces of outer conditioning. Instead he envisioned the emerging psyche as a landscape riddled with dry riverbeds shaped by the dynamism of the collective psyche operating across the millennia. When new vitality appeared it would most likely flow into these established channels. This is why people from the most diverse cultures would all envision heroes, tricksters, great mothers and so forth. Archetypes are the essential, primordial images stored in the hologram of the collective psyche. Each individual refracts these primordial images a bit differently, but the essence is still quite apparent.
Jung points out: “The hypothesis of a collective unconscious belongs to the class of ideas that people at first find strange but soon come to possess and use as familiar conceptions.”
Jung was an empiricist and he used empirical evidence to demonstrate the existence of the collective unconscious:
"The hypothesis of the collective unconscious is [. . .] no more daring than to assume there are instincts. One admits readily that human activity is influenced to a high degree by instincts, quite apart from the rational motivations of the conscious mind. So if the assertion is made that our imagination, perception, and thinking are likewise influenced by inborn and universally present formal elements, it seems to me that a normally functioning intelligence can discover in this idea just as much or just as little mysticism as in the theory of instincts. Although this reproach of mysticism has frequently been leveled at my concept, I must emphasize yet again that the concept of the collective unconscious is neither a speculative nor a philosophical but an empirical matter. The question is simply this: are there or are there not unconscious, universal forms of this kind? If they exist, then there is a region of the psyche one can call the collective unconscious."3
Seeds of the Future
“[For the alchemists] they were seeds of light broadcast in the chaos [. . .] the seed plot of a world to come.”
--Jung, on the archetypes4
The dreams of an individual in crisis will tend to be dynamic, highly charged, and revealing of the archetypes ascendant in their inner process. Similarly, the mythology of a culture in crisis will be intense and revealing of forces shaping collective destiny beneath the world of surfaces and appearances. Furthermore, the realms of dream and mythology will typically parallel or overlap. For example, while Jung worked as an analyst during the era of the Weimar Republic, he found that Wotan, the god of war and mayhem in German mythology, was occurring frequently in the dreams of his educated, highly civilized German patients. Jung was very disturbed by this phenomenon, which he called "Wotanism." Based on the emergence of this archetype, Jung was able to correctly predict the future shape of irrational forces brewing in the German psyche.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Before we descend into the rabbit hole to encounter the Singularity Archetype, I would like to suggest an invaluable piece of equipment to bring along. Besides all the critical faculties that you bring to bear on this or any other document you read, an encounter with an archetype also requires, as we discussed earlier, a deeply intuitive truth sense. As you approach an archetype you will feel a resonance within, a sense of uncanny familiarity and recognition. The Hero with a Thousand Faces is the memorable title of Joseph Campbell’s classic book on the hero archetype. Campbell was being numerically modest because every archetype has billions or trillions of faces. These myriad faces are the individual permutations or manifestations of the archetype, like facets allowing you to look into the prismatic depths of a jewel that can dazzle and overwhelm.
During our journey we will have time to look through only a tiny fraction of the available faces/facets of the Singularity Archetype. Hopefully these few vantages will allow the reader to triangulate the essence of an ever-shifting vision. At most, a fundamentalist looks through a single facet of an archetype and concretizes a single face he has been conditioned to see there. The Jungian approach, however, is to realize that each facet involves its own prismatic distortions of the archetype, like a series of cubist paintings of a single subject. Unlike the fundamentalist, the Jungian doesn’t attach to the idiosyncratic reflections of particular versions, but attempts to see the essence that unites the myriad manifestations of the archetype.
Our first facet will give us an abstracted outline. Before we glimpse some manifestations of the Singularity Archetype, let’s start with a definition and a generic template of how it manifests:
Singularity Archetype Defined
The Singularity Archetype is a primordial image of human evolutionary metamorphosis which emerges from the collective unconscious. The Singularity Archetype builds on archetypes of death and rebirth and adds information about the evolutionary potential of both species and individual.
A Composite Picture of how the Archetype Manifests
A rupture-of-plane event occurs, usually threatening the survival of the individual and/or species. The event is a shock that disrupts the equilibrium of body/physical world and also individual/collective psyche. It is an ontological shock that will be viewed as the worst thing possible by individual/ collective ego.
There is another rupture of plane that may actually be the same rupture as above but seen from a cosmic rather than a personal view. The shock is revealed to be a transcendent evolutionary event. The revelation of the transcendent aspect will often involve spiral motifs and unusual lights. Consciousness and communication metamorphose and with them core aspects--ego, individuality, connection to linear time, corporeality, gender identification, social order, etc.--fundamentally transform. There is a vision or actualization of release from some or all limits of corporeal incarnation and the emergence of “glorified bodies,” which have enhanced powers and various degrees of etherialization. More visual and telepathic modes of consciousness and communication emerge and this is part of a transformation of individuality into “Homo gestalt”--a new species where individual psyches are networked telepathically.
The Singularity Archetype may occur as a dream, vision or fantasy about eschaton--an end point of the species. The Singularity Archetype may also be experienced and even actualized to various degrees by an individual through transcendent and/or anomalous experiences such as near-death experiences (NDEs), UFO/abduction/close encounter experiences, kundalini and psychotropic episodes.
As with encounters with all archetypes, individuals and groups will attach idiosyncratic material to it, such as particular end dates and scenarios. But the Singularity Archetype cannot be fully located in linear time and is not reducible to a premonition of particular outcomes or predetermined futures. It could, however, be viewed as a “strange attractor,”5 a not fully formed pattern associated with the future that is affecting individual and species in past and present. Another way of defining the Singularity Archetype (in its collective form) is as a resonance, flowing backward through time, of an approaching Singularity at the end of human history.
The Singularity Archetype is a critical point where transformation, in ways impossible to fully anticipate, will greatly shift human consciousness and therefore the nature of "reality." From an ordinary, grounded human perspective, this Singularity may be perceived as apocalyptic extinction. From a more cosmic perspective, the Singularity is revealed as a transcendent evolutionary threshold.
The Singularity Archetype, however, is not merely located in the future, but has also existed in the past and is very much alive in the present as well. It reflects the potential that exists in the species in real time and has relevance to individuals whose lifespan does not extend to the event horizon of the species. As we will see later in the section on the Singularity Archetype and Near-Death Experience, the Singularity Archetype relates to both the evolutionary event horizon of the species and, for the individual, the event horizon of death.
As with all archetypes, visions of this approaching Singularity occur in a variety of permutations. When an archetype emerges from the collective unconscious, it is colored by the cultural conditioning, personal unconscious and unique individuality of the psyche perceiving it. Attached to the Singularity Archetype is a constellation of elements, a developing mythology of a new step in human evolution. These elements reflect changes occurring as we approach the Singularity. The Singularity Archetype is found in the prophecies of great religions and tribal cultures, and many who feel it approaching see it through the particular lens of their religious or cultural tradition. An evangelical Christian, for example, may speak of Armageddon and the Rapture.
While most perceive the Singularity Archetype through religious prophecy, it is also possible to view it from a nondenominational vantage (the Jungian method). We can do this by looking at a variety of manifestations of the Singularity from different periods, places, individuals and sources. We can look at dreams, individual and collective (myths), but also at consciously created visionary artifacts such as novels, movies, etc. In a later section we’ll take a brief look at the Singularity Archetype through religious prophecies. It will be a brief look, because for me at least, looking at the Singularity Archetype through religious prophecy is to look through a glass darkly. At best it is like looking through thick, semi-transparent stained-glass windows. The jigsaw pattern of lead solder forms a fixed template defining and segmenting your vision. Oxides of cobalt, copper and gold added long ago to molten glass predetermine the colors you will see. But to be fair, stained-glass windows are meant to be looked at with awe from a distance. They are certainly not made for looking through. I find it more useful to view the Singularity through the eyes of modern individuals. To start, let's consider a couple of dreams recorded by one of Jung's most brilliant colleagues, Marie Louise Von Franz, in Jung’s classic introductory work: Man and his Symbols.
Von Franz describes two dreams reported to her by someone she describes as "a simple woman who was brought up in Protestant surroundings. . . ." In both dreams a supernatural event of great significance is viewed. But in one dream the dreamer views the event from above, in the other dream she views the same event standing on the earth.
The dreamer’s painting of her earthbound dream.
“In the earthbound dream, the dreamer stands with a guide, looking down at Jerusalem. The wing of Satan descends and darkens the city. The occurrence in the Middle East of this uncanny wing of the devil immediately brings to mind Antichrist and Armageddon.”
The dreamer’s painting of her dream from the heavens.
The dreamer witnesses the same cosmic event from the heavens. From this vantage she sees the white, wafting cloak of God. The white spiral appears as a symbol of evolution. Von Franz narrates: "the spectator is high up, somewhere in heaven, and sees in front of her a terrific split between the rocks. The movement in the cloak of God is an attempt to reach Christ, the figure on the right, but it does not quite succeed. In the second painting, the same thing is seen from below--from a human angle. Looking at it from a higher angle, what is moving and spreading is a part of God; above that rises the spiral as a symbol of possible further development. But seen from the basis of our human reality, this same thing in the air is the dark, uncanny wing of the devil.”
“In the dreamer's life these two pictures became real in a way that does not concern us here, but it is obvious that they may also contain a collective meaning that reaches beyond the personal. They may prophesy the descent of a divine darkness upon the Christian hemisphere, a darkness that points, however, toward the possibility of further evolution. Since the axis of the spiral does not move upward but into the background of the picture, the further evolution will lead neither to greater spiritual height nor down into the realm of matter, but to another dimension. . . ."
Over many years of working with people on their dreams, I have observed many such visions of the Singularity Archetype. For example, a few years ago a young man reported to me the following dream:
"The sky is turning very dark. Underground tremors occur and escalate to where the earth seems to be shaking itself to pieces. There is fire and lightening, and it seems to be the end of the world. Then everything calms down. Sunlight breaks through the dark clouds and illuminates a large white eagle, which comes spiraling down from above. In its talons it holds a golden egg with a glowing aura. Carefully, it deposits this egg in a nest at the top of a great tree."
In this single, brief dream we see many of the elements we saw in the two dreams recorded by Von Franz. There is the descent of darkness that seems to threaten the end of the world, but this transforms into a cosmic rebirth event associated with a spiral.
We will now switch facets and view a third manifestation of the Singularity Archetype through a very different psyche and medium. The very different psyche belongs to Arthur C. Clarke, who was originally an astrophysicist and later became famous as a science-fiction writer. Clarke is a man of science and famously anti-religious. For example, the N.Y. Times quoted him as saying: “Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn't killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?”6 In other words, Clarke’s worldview is in dramatic contrast to the probable worldview of the Christian woman whose dreams we just looked at. Also, science fiction, a form that is consciously created with much effort during waking hours, would seem to be a very different source than dreams, which erupt spontaneously from the unconscious.
Clarke is best known for the novel and Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 is one of the most brilliant visions of the Singularity Archetype, and it will be considered in depth later in the book, by presently we are going to consider an earlier example of Clarke's work, the classic science-fiction novel, Childhood's End. Science fiction is obviously a very different medium than dreams. But like dreams, science fiction is also a fertile and open imaginal realm where the collective unconscious can communicate with modern persons, and a new mythology, however unrecognized, can express itself. Since Childhood’s End is as profound a manifestation of the Singularity Archetype as I’ve ever encountered, we’ll give it a correspondingly more thorough look.
Childhood's End begins with extraterrestrial spacecraft appearing over the world’s capitals. Beings from within these craft break through all communications and announce that they are "the Overlords" and have come to establish peace on earth. They claim to be superior beings who wish to establish peace and prosperity on earth through the formation of a world government, maintained by their supreme authority. They ask to be thought of as civil servants rather than dictators. In fact, they do advance man’s material contentment, with the major religions standing as their only organized opposition. The Overlords succeed in establishing peace on earth and, excepting military aggression, do not curtail any human freedoms. To all appearances the Overlords are benevolent, but they remain a great unknown: “Speculations concerning the Overlords were pure guesswork. No one knew their motives; and no one knew toward what future they were shepherding mankind.”
Much of the continuing distrust of the Overlords stems from the fact that they will not appear in public or even offer a description of their physical form. Eventually they promise to reveal themselves after two generations--fifty years.
These fifty years pass peacefully for the human species. Thanks to the Overlords, mankind has entered a golden age of affluence and everyone eagerly awaits the day when the Overlords will descend to earth and reveal themselves. When the long-anticipated day arrives the great spacecraft descend. With some ceremony, the Overlords emerge, and to the uneasy surprise of the human species their appearance is revealed:
“The leathery wings, the little horns, the barbed tail--all were there. The most terrible of all legends had come to life out of the unknown past. Yet now it stood smiling, in ebon majesty, with the sunlight gleaming upon its tremendous body . . .” (65).
This decidedly mythological element is fascinatingly incongruous with the setting of technological materialism stereotypical of the science-fiction genre. What is the meaning of a specter from the Christian and pagan past reemerging in the world of the future? Clarke reveals that the Overlords’ alarming physiognomy is simply the result of their evolutionary adaptation to the environmental conditions of their planet. The Overlords are actually perfectly benevolent and are far more rational and intelligent than humans. The novel explains their physical appearance as “a racial memory of a future event,” accounting for their cross-cultural appearance in legend and myth. In other words, their physical form and association with evil is an archetype, but also a premonition. The association with evil, furthermore, is not a reflection of the Overlord’s nature, as they are in fact benevolent, but rather a result of the event horizon of total transformation that the Overlord’s arrival signifies. The instinctive and premonitory fear of the Overlord’s physical form derives from the conservatism of an established genome recognizing that metamorphosis means the obsolescence and extinction of the species in its old form.
The Overlords are servants of the "Overmind," a cosmic intelligence permeating the universe that is Clarke's naturalistic God concept. The Overmind employs the Overlords as midwives. When the Overmind senses that an intelligent species is about to cross the evolutionary event horizon and make the jump into higher consciousness, it sends the Overlords to their planet to supervise the process. This evolutionary process is volatile and unstable, and if not properly supervised could result in disastrous consequences whose effects would reach far beyond the particular world on which the process occurs.
The Overlords, though infinitely superior to humans in every perceivable attribute, are themselves barren and unable to manifest the evolutionary birth process that it is their perpetual task to oversee. As one of the Overlords, Rasheverak, explains:
"Probably, like most men, you have always regarded us as your masters. That is not true. We have never been more than guardians, doing a duty imposed upon us from--above. That duty is hard to define: perhaps you can best think of us as midwives attending a difficult birth. We are helping to bring something new and wonderful into being. [. . .] Yes, we are the midwives. But we ourselves are barren" (178).
Karellan, the chief Overlord, in a final speech to mankind, adds:
"Our intellects are far more powerful than yours, but there is something in your minds that has always eluded us. [. . .] Our races have much in common--that is why we were chosen for this task. But in other respects, we represent the ends of two different evolutions. Our minds have reached the end of their development. So, in their present form, have yours. Yet you can make the jump to the next stage, and therein lies the difference between us."
"We are your guardians--no more. Often you must have wondered what position my race held in the hierarchy of the universe. As we are above you, so there is something above us, using us for its own purposes. We have never discovered what it is, though we have been its tool for ages and dare not disobey it. Again and again we have received our orders, have gone to some world in the early flower of its civilization, and have guided it along the road that we can never follow--the road that you are traveling now."
"Again and again we had studied the process we have been sent to foster, hoping that we might learn to escape form our limitations. But we have glimpsed only the vague outlines of the truth. You called us the Overlords, not knowing the irony of that title. [. . .] Let us say that above us is the Overmind, using us as the potter uses his wheel."
"And your race is the clay that is being shaped on that wheel."
An interesting aspect of the evolutionary model presented in Childhood’s End is that intelligence is not the decisive factor catalyzing the evolutionary event horizon. The Overlords are well aware of this and recognize that it is parapsychological abilities that are more essential to the metamorphosis. Karellan makes this explicit in his final speech:
"Your mystics, though they were lost in their own delusions, had seen part of the truth. There are powers of the mind, and powers beyond the mind, which your science could never have brought within its framework without shattering it entirely. All down the ages there have been countless reports of strange phenomena--poltergeists, telepathy, precognition--which you had named but never explained. At first science ignored them, even denied their existence, despite the testimony of five thousand years. But they exist, and, if it is to be complete, any theory of the universe must account for them."
"During the first half of the twentieth century, a few of your scientists began to investigate these matters. They did not know it, but they were tampering with the lock of Pandora’s box. The forces they might have unleashed transcended any perils that the atom could have brought. For the physicists could only have ruined the earth: the paraphysicists could have spread havoc to the stars” (178-182).
The reference to Pandora’s box here will be very relevant when we look at the world of Pandora in Avatar, a world where paraphysics trumps technological physics.
On earth, in addition to keeping human beings from destroying each other, the Overlords have a secret task, to search for an extraordinary individual who will be the first human being to exhibit these evolutionary changes. This individual is referred to as "Subject Zero," and the concept seems close to a naturalistic version of searching for the Messiah.
As part of this search, Rasheverak pays a visit to an American man who has one of the largest privately owned collections of books on parapsychology and the occult. Rasheverak is interested in this library because he is looking for any examples of extraordinary functioning that might indicate the emergence of Subject Zero. Like any intelligent, skeptical reader of such material, Rasheverak finds that it is often difficult to sift the truth from the abundant nonsense.
After reading half of the library, Rashaverak reports to his supervisor that he has found, “eleven cases of partial breakthrough and twenty-seven probables. The material is so selective, however that one cannot use it for sampling purposes. And the evidence is confused with mysticism--perhaps the chief aberration of the human mind.”
Rashaverak also reports that Rupert, “pretends to be open-minded and skeptical, but it’s clear that he would never have spent so much time and effort in this field unless he has some unconscious faith” (99).
During Rashaverak’s stay at his home, Rupert has a party for friends apparently drawn by the celebrity name-dropping opportunity of meeting an Overlord. The guests, like the owner, seem to be narcissistic individuals with a gullible appetite for occult and parapsychological entertainments. In many ways they seem a prophetic anticipation of stereotyped New Agers. At one point, as part of the entertainment, Rupert invites his guests to have a session with the Ouija board. Rashaverak does not participate, but he does observe. Rupert asks the board to identify itself and it replies “IAMALL,” a statement very suggestive of a collective unconscious. The board delivers some more ambiguous messages, such as, “BELIEVEINMANNATUREISWITHYOU” and “REMBERMANISNOTALONENEARMANISCOUNTRYOFOTHER.” Finally one skeptic among the group asks, “Which star is the Overlord’s sun?” a piece of information which the Overlords have kept from mankind. The board replies “NGS 546972,” which turns out to be the correct coordinates.
Rashaverak later explains that the information came from a young woman participating in the séance:
"Miss Morrel’s mind was the channel that, if only for a moment, let through the knowledge which no one alive at that time could possess. It could only come from another mind, intimately linked to hers. The fact that it was a mind not yet born was of no consequence, for Time is very much stranger than you think" (99).
Rasheverak is also aware that, “All through history there have been people with inexplicable powers which seem to transcend space and time” (172).
Rashaverak explains these powers in terms that clearly imply a collective unconscious:
"But there is one analogy which is--well suggestive and helpful. It occurs over and over again in your literature. Imagine that every man’s mind is an island, surrounded by ocean. Each seems isolated, yet in reality all are linked by the bedrock from which they spring. If the ocean were to vanish, that would be the end of the islands. They would all be part of one continent, but their individuality would be gone" (178).
There are no obvious signs within man himself that he is evolving and we are reminded that intellect wouldn’t have much to do with it. We are told that, “there was no evidence that the intelligence of the human race had improved. . . .” The child that the Overlords suspect of being the first sample of the new breed, Miss Morrell’s son, seems perfectly average: "I was able to see the school records of subject Zero, without arousing curiosity. The relevant statistics are attached, and it will be seen that there are still no signs of any unusual development. Yet, as we know, breakthrough seldom gives much prior warning" (99).
Subject Zero begins to have strange visions of other worlds. The Overlord’s knowledge of the universe indicates that the dreams are accurate visions, and that each dream describes a world further from the center of the universe. The subject’s infant sister, meanwhile, is developing telekinesis and non-physical senses. She is progressing more rapidly, we are told, because “she had so much less to unlearn.”
Karellan tries to prepare mankind for the shocking metamorphosis in his final speech:
"All the earlier changes your race has known took countless ages. But this is a transformation of the mind, not of the body. By the standards of evolution, it will be cataclysmic--instantaneous. It has already begun. You must face the fact that yours is the last generation of Homo sapiens.
“As to the nature of that change, we can tell you very little. We do not know how it is produced--what trigger impulse the Overmind employs when it judges that the time is ripe. All we have discovered is that it starts with a single individual--always a child--and then spreads explosively, like the formation of crystals round the first nucleus in a saturated solution. Adults will not be affected for their minds are already set in an unalterable mold.
"In a few years, it will all be over, and the human race will have divided in twain. There is no way back, and no future for the world you know. All the hopes and dreams of your race are ended now. You have given birth to your successors, and it is your tragedy that you will never understand them--will never even be able to communicate with their minds. Indeed they will not possess minds as you know them. They will be a single entity, as you yourselves are the sums of your myriad cells. You will not think them human, and you will be right" (178-182).
All the children born after a certain point are of this new type and exhibit parapsychological powers. Once a critical number of them are born, all human beings of the older type become sterile. This is the literal part of the meaning of the title, Childhood’s End. The new children evolve quickly and become more powerful as their psyches merge to form a collective consciousness. At a certain point the children materialize themselves on one continent and join hands forming a giant moving configuration the Overlords call “The Long Dance.” Older, pre-Subject Zero human beings are not destroyed, but having given birth to their successors they become literally sterile and are utterly demoralized by their irrelevance and inevitable extinction.
When the children manifest their ultimate evolution and are able to merge energetically with the Overmind, they appear to the last human being left alive as an aurora borealis, a spiral of light in the sky also described as a glittering network of lights.
Childhood's End uncannily parallels the three dreams we have considered. In the young man's dream, darkness and earthquake transform into a spiraling white eagle bearing a golden egg. Similarly, the dark wing of Satan descends in the dream of a simple Protestant woman, only to be later revealed as the cloak of God. In Childhood’s End the overlords have the dark wings and appearance of devils, but are actually evolutionary midwives to a quantum evolutionary event that looks like a spiral of light in the night sky. And all three manifestations envision a white spiral of light in the sky as the interdimensional, evolutionary portal of the species. A central, emergent theme is that what seems apocalyptic from the earthbound ego point of view is revealed from a cosmic point of view to be a transcendent evolutionary metamorphosis.
I have recorded and studied numerous other examples of the Singularity Archetype and found the essential pattern repeated with all sorts of interesting variations. We’ll take a look at some of them later, but if you keep your eyes open I think you'll find many examples for yourself. The world of contemporary culture is intensely mythological; it is only a question of recognizing it. Tune into the right frequencies and you will notice that archetypal information about this approaching Singularity permeates our environment as ubiquitously as radio and television waves. If you remember that the same tools of symbolic analysis employed in dream interpretation may be employed in understanding all sorts of cultural manifestations, you will find yourself provided with endless messages about the approaching event horizon.
1. Yes, I know that pixel and hologram are incompatible. This is not optical physics, but rather a loose, extended metaphor.
2. Papadopoulos, Renos, ed. "The Archetypes". The Handbook of Jungian Psychology. New York: Routledge, 2006.
3. Jung, C., Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 9. 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1968. For an introduction to the collective unconscious and the archetypes, see Man and his Symbols.
4. Jung, C., Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 8. 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1968. 388.
5. This is a term that Terence McKenna borrowed from Chaos Mathematics, and I am using it in the same way he did, but I do now know if that corresponds to the mathematical meaning.
This article is taken from the forthcoming book, Crossing the Event Horizon: The Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis.Tweet