Fantasies in the modern age

The enchanted garden from the Decameron. Source: Wikipedia.
The creation and telling of fantasies has been part and parcel of human life since primordial times. Myths and tales have always given expression to our unconscious processes, and their telling around the fire has played a critical role in the integration of the personalities of our ancestors. Originally, our ancestors did not distinguish myths from facts; fantasies from reality. To this day, as John Mack mentioned in his book Passport to the Cosmos, members of aboriginal cultures do not understand why we, so-called civilized peoples, make such a distinction, for both myth and fact are, equally, realities of the mind. Yet, Western society, at some point, established a break between these two worlds: It emptied the world of myth from its significance, relegating it to a mostly harmless but inconsequential category, while reserving all ontological value for the world of so-called 'facts.' This has now gone on for a couple of hundred years, with the effect of impoverishing our mental lives, as Jung sought to highlight. Now, in the early 21st century, a new dynamics seems to be at play... a dynamics wherein the human collective unconscious seems to be once again trying to close the gap between 'fact' and 'fiction;' but this time in a new and dangerous manner...

Continuous alienation from our own unconscious minds  the realm of myths and fantasies  has left, as a the result, a scar in our psyches: We've become unable to derive psychic energy from anything but the stories that we believe to be objective facts. Our self-imposed cultural indoctrination that myths are inconsequential has left us, as adults, unable to derive meaning and significance from our own fantasies the way a child can. The craving that results from such alienation from ourselves has, in my view, been building up in our society for decades, even centuries now. We try to numb this craving by increasing the sheer impact of what we know to be 'mere' fantasies: Ever louder music, ever more action-packed movies, 3D, IMAX, Dolby Surround, virtual reality, high-tech role-playing games, etc. But, deep inside, we continue to live in psychic poverty, for we 'know' that those are just fantasies. So we turn to newscasts, reality television, and other sources of 'real' stories which we grant ourselves permission to 'believe.' But there, ultimately, we only find disappointment: 'Real' reality is too constrained and static to even approach the evocative power of myth. Poor we are, and continue to be, despite our desperate attempts at meaning and significance.

Realizing that the source of this poverty is the divide between 'fact' and 'fiction,' the unconscious seems, in modern times, to have found a dangerous and desperate way out: While it cannot close the divide, it can attempt to bring fantasy under the category of 'fact,' so we again give ourselves permission to derive meaning from it. In other words, there seems to be an astonishing readiness, on the part of many of us over the past few decades, to believe as fact that which is fantasy on the face of it. Only through such belief do we allow the stories to again reach us, bringing their richness into our psychic lives without the inevitable dismissal reserved for anything deemed 'unreal.' Our willingness to believe fantastic stories that are, at best, delusional and, at worst, cheap attempts at commercial gain, has reached literally incredible levels in some corners of society. As the collective unconscious must always maintain its global equilibrium, this very tendency towards unreasonable belief feeds into the development of an equally hysterical and biased skeptical movement, which is now better organized and funded than ever before in history. Action and counter-action: Balance is maintained at a global level. However, whoever tries to remain individually balanced now finds him or herself isolated and friendless in the crossfire between these extreme poles; a situation wherein its easy to be alienated and difficult to belong. True to this fact, this very article, if anything, will alienate me even more from both sides.

A quick look at a list of popular books and videos over the past couple of decades in the so-called 'New Age' gender  merely an example among many others – reveals an intriguing and recurring attempt to pass what seems to be outright fantasy for fact: Good extraterrestrial aliens trying, as you read this, to free humanity from the tyranny of secret societies and other conspiracies; Invisible inter-planetary wars taking place every day as we 'blindly' go to work in the morning; 'Energy waves' from the galactic center re-architecting our DNA to grant us access to 'higher dimensions;' Channeled messages from Pleiadeans who are about to re-enter human history to rescue the chosen ones among us; Special souls who are being born in human form with a specific mission to prepare the rest of humanity (poor dears) for some kind of ontological shift; and what not. Mind you, these stories are conveyed as fact; not fantasy. Their authors are telling you that this is what is actually happening. Some go as far as presenting them as scientific fact, pointing to an unlikely array of dubious, obscure, pseudo-scientific work on the one hand, and sometimes outrageous misrepresentations of legitimate scientific work on the other hand. As discussed above, the ideas of these authors could be considered merely naive and misguided. They may arise from over-active imaginations seized by the collective unconscious, hungry as the latter is for meaning, richness, and significance.

As such, and in all fairness, these authors are simply meeting a demand. They are tools of a supra-human process, not culprits of a crime. There would be no motivation for any of this if there weren't a collective, unconscious need for rich and meaningful fantasies conveyed under the label of 'fact.' If they were conveyed merely as fantasies, that would 'spoil the effect,' if you will. We want to be deceived; we need to be deceived, because that's the only way the unconscious mind has found to restore meaning, richness, and significance to what has otherwise become a vacuous and purposeless existence, devoid of much of its original evocative power. The current scientific paradigm, which governs the official zeitgeist of our culture, could be well characterized by the way Michael Prescott put it:

"None of the key developments in your life was somehow meant for you. No one is looking out for you. No events in your past happened for a reason, and they aren't building up to any future purpose. The story of your life has no continuity and no destination - heck, it's not even a story - and there is nothing to strive for. You were not put here for a reason, you don't matter, and you're deluded if you think you have a "mission" in life. Face facts! You have no calling! The universe couldn't care less about you! Just give up!!!"

Such situation is psychically unstable and unsustainable. Indeed, it's a wonder that we have survived so long like this.

Now the key point: This article may, so far, be sounding to you as though I were just 'psychologizing' the modern phenomenon of 'fantastic realism' on the one hand, and dismissing the corresponding stories as mere delusions and fantasies on the other hand. But to conclude this assumes that I don't see anything significant in the unconscious dynamics behind all this. I do.

As detailed in many of my articles, interviews, videos, and books, I hold the position that reality is a projection of mind. I subscribe to the notion that the continuity and seeming autonomy of reality arise from collective structures in the unconscious parts of our minds. Reality is, as such, merely the visible tip of the iceberg of the collective mind, if you will. Now, what I am suggesting above is that the unconscious is restless: It can no longer accept our current zeitgeist; our current cynical view of reality. There is enough empirical, psychological data to suggest that the unconscious craves desperately for new significance, new richness, new meaning. And if reality is just the tip of the unconscious iceberg, such unconscious needs are bound to end up manifesting themselves in reality in very palpable and concrete ways. In other words, because we no longer give ourselves permission to derive fulfillment from what is deemed 'unreal,' our unconscious needs may turn into actual fact in concrete reality. This way, the current hysteria around 'fantastic realism' may be a mere prelude to surprising developments in our near historical future. What now can easily be dismissed by reasonable minds as silly delusion or cheap attempts at commercial gain, may be mere harbingers of an unfathomable shift in our historical storyline.

What the future will bring is anybody's guess. But I, for one, believe it highly unlikely that the adventure of human history can continue much longer in such a meaningless, impoverished, and bland way as it has done for, say, the last 50 years. Creation, I believe, has a telos, and such telos has to do with the evocative power of reality as far as human emotions. An impoverished reality loses such evocative power and defeats its own purpose. Under such circumstances, reality becomes like an engine that began to stutter and is in need of maintenance. So there may be a significant way in which 'fantastic realism' may prove to ultimately be right, just not in the literal sense it's purported to be. After an overdue overhaul, who knows how fast the engine of reality will run, and how much evocative power it will again possess?

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.


  1. I am thankful to hear this type of subject matter discussed at the level of its origin, that being the level of the human heart - the level of mythos - rather than just at the level of "scientific fact", which in this case is somehow perfunctory. One can only hope that such an approach will catch fire and spread. Thank you for your bravery and honesty.


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