The Psychoros Concept

The Camera Model

I’m sitting here at my table, in front of my computer. I see the screen in front of me, the keyboard below it, various papers and projects scattered on the table. I feel the palm rest beneath my wrists, the keys under my fingers. I know that if I reach out I can grasp that glass of water, the phone, a pen. Hidden in this simple scene are some of the most profound questions, confronted through the ages by philosophers and scientists alike. Who am “I”? How do those objects come to be present in “my mind”?

The simple answer to the “who” question typically involves reciting a bit of public history, some socially relevant facts about myself. To the “how” question, I might invoke the image of my eyes being like a video camera, and my self being the “homunculus” watching the video screen inside my head. Unless you are fascinated by philosophy and in the mood for a deep conversation, or you are determined to apply scientific methods to the study of consciousness, you probably don’t care to dig any deeper.

Cameras and the images they create are ubiquitous today. We all know what the world around us is supposed to look like, because we have seen photographs and videos of it from every distance and angle. And everyone else has seen the same images, so there is an unprecedented agreement about the proper representation of reality. We may differ about the emotional impact of what we see, but few of us will bother to try describing an inner view of the world that isn’t like a photograph.

But Where Am “I”?

Attempts to explain consciousness, even in the scientific literature, always seem to fall back on a homunculus, “a ‘little man inside the head,’ who perceives the world through the senses, thinks, and plans and executes voluntary actions.”*[Crick and Koch, 2000]  One of the themes you will find running through this site is that my consciousness has not proven to be confined to the inside of my head. Another is that, despite my tendency to use conventional words and images to describe what I perceive, the sensory data coming in has not followed the rules of photography or cinematography.

*[For a recent survey of consciousness in the scientific literature, see Crick, F. and Koch, C., The Unconscious Homunculus, in The Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness, Metzinger, T., ed., pp. 103-110. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA (2000), at (Crick and Koch, 2000) on the web.]

I remember feeling as early as age seven that “I” was not firmly trapped inside my head. I might be anywhere in the room, or everywhere in the room at once. My sensory view of the room might be from any point or perspective, including many that a camera could never reach. But, however disconnected my sense of self and my sense of the material world might be from my body, they were rarely if ever disconnected from each other. Clearly I was interposing a subjective representation of physical reality between my conscious self and the stimuli coming from my body’s sense organs.

The “Dancing Ground of the Soul”

The psychoros is the mental representation of the external world, in which “I” live. It may feel contained inside my head, or it may seem to be projected outward, co-located with the physical objects that stimulate my senses. At some moments it may seem faithfully photographic, other times it may break loose into configurations that couldn’t be created even as special effects in a movie.

 [[ M.C. Escher - Print Gallery, 1956 lithograph ]]  [All M.C. Escher works © Cordon Art B.V., P.O. Box 101 3740 AC, Baarn, The Netherlands. All rights reserved. Used by permission. On the web at (Official M.C. Escher site). Larger image at (Official M.C. Escher site - Gallery 1955-1972).]

[For an image of the grid used by Escher to create this lithograph, and details and images from a project that created a computerized version printable in variable dimensions and directions, see (Leiden University Escher-Droste) on the web.]

This lithograph by M.C. Escher illustrates several characteristics of the psychoros:

The psychoros contains the body as well as its environment. In the illustration, the viewpoint of the conscious self (assuming the person in the gallery is the viewer, and the entire image is his view) is from outside the body, but more typically the view is from inside the head. Kinesthetic and proprioceptive sensations are mapped into the psychoros along with visual and auditory input.

The psychoros is not topologically closed or continuous. The blank white area in the center of the image is not unlike what happens at the physiological blind spots where the optic nerves connect to the retinas. The wrapping of the space outside the gallery around into the framed print inside the gallery is no problem for the psychoros. Our “logical” photographic expectations typically keep us from making such blank spots conscious, or attending to both ends of such a “space warp” at the same time. Our lack of appropriate words keeps us from speaking literally about such situations, but as images like this suggest, many people catch glimpses of the less logical phenomena available in the psychoros.

The psychoros includes representations of remembered sensations as well as what is currently coming in from the sense organs. In the short term, it remembers the direction, distance, and orientation of objects you have turned your eyes or head away from, and as you turn back to a previous view it restores those objects to consciousness (at least in limited resolution) even before you physically see them, or even if your eyes are closed. The distance and direction to remembered objects is still “felt” when they are out of view. If the conscious self is outside the body, as I am assuming it to be in the Escher lithograph, remembered sensations will be combined in ways that were never directly perceived, to create an appropriate viewpoint.

Of the four stages of the visual process proposed in David Marr’s famous model, the psychoros most resembles the “2½-D sketch”.*[Marr, 1982]  The psychoros is viewer-centered (though the viewer is identified as the conscious self rather than the physical eyes). It is concerned with depth and orientation of visible stimuli, and with detecting boundaries and discontinuities in the perceived space. The psychoros may be populated with the kind of “3-D models” of discrete objects described by Marr, and these may appear in a canonical size rather than their visually projected size, but its primary function is to categorize their relevance to the viewer rather than discern their details.

*[A classic book, still actively referenced wherever vision is studied or discussed; the full text of Marr, D., Vision, Freeman: San Francisco, CA (1982) does not appear to be available on the web.]

A preoccupation with vision is probably misleading. Within the psychoros, emotional biases or pressures easily override information from the visual, auditory, and somatic senses. If you feel trapped, the walls around you will probably appear closer, regardless of what your optical vergence and binocular disparity are telling you. This is not just a biased subjective evaluation of an otherwise accurate visual representation continuously provided by your senses. The psychoros is the world you see and feel around yourself, while the raw sensory data used to populate it normally remain unconscious.

Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?

They are. We just don’t recognize it because there have been no explicit words for the psychoros or what takes place there. We have images like “spaced out”, or “the walls closing in” or “down in the dumps” or “high as a kite”, and we all use them regularly to indicate our emotional state. We have a rich imagery for the interactions between our inner worlds and those of other people. Some people are invasive, others will let you walk all over them. Yet the cultural assumption (at least in Western countries) is that all of us live in the “real world” where space is organized photographically, and there is something wrong with you if you feel such emotional states too literally.

Among people who have spent time at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, there is a highly developed and well verbalized politics of personal “psychic space”{future link}. Newcomers (like me in 1976) are typically baffled when told in no uncertain terms to “Get back in your space!” With enough repetition, you gradually begin to recognize that sensitive people feel the “energy ”{future link} you project as your personally idiosyncratic psychoros representation of a shared physical reality bumps up against theirs.

This is not too different from the common psychological notion that each of us feels some personal space around our body where (most) other people are not welcome. Except at BPI the distance was much greater, the concept was much more detailed, and the indignation at being invaded was much more readily expressed. They added the concept of “grounding”, neutralizing your energy with respect to the earth, and a strong emphasis on “making your body real” and keeping your viewpoint of consciousness solidly within your body.

While BPI emphasized the goal of keeping spaces separate and equal, Carl Jung suggested that in any particular aspect of a close relationship, one partner always contains the other.*[Jung, 1925]  In a world of photographically organized space, this can only be interpreted figuratively. Using the concept of the psychoros, and its ability to morph perceived space in non-photographic ways, it is easy to imagine perceiving oneself surrounded by someone else’s psychoros. In fact, we all begin life contained by our mothers, and spend childhood (and often far too much of adulthood) attempting to claim our own independent space.

*[“The problem of the ‘contained’ and the ‘container’” is discussed in Marriage as a Psychological Relationship, first published in Das Ehebuch, Keyserling, Count H., ed., (Celle, 1925). It is currently available in The Development of Personality, The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung, Hull, R.F.C., tr., Vol. 17, pars. 324-345. Princeton.]

The Chakra Connection

“Chakra”, “any of several points of physical or spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy” has finally made its way into conventional dictionaries. Each person’s seven primary chakras are believed to be stacked from the base of their spine to the top of their head. Ideally “energy” is free to flow up and down the spine through all the chakras, and the goal of many meditation practices is to open this column to allow maximum free flow.

I mentioned earlier that each person’s psychoros contains their image of their body as well as of its environment. Part of that body image is made up of the ordinary sensations the body is feeling, and visual images of the parts of the body its eyes can physically see - which are expected to follow the rules of photographic representation. Alongside this conventional body image is an intimate connection between the chakras and the psychoros which I have never seen described before.

At this point I can’t define a “normal” or optimal form for this relationship, though I suspect simplicity would be a key value. All I know is my own experience, which is certainly not optimal, plus what I have assumed from observing other people from the outside. It is clear to me that energy or patterns of stress can be exchanged between the chakras and the psychoros. The Vision and Childhood Events sections of this site {will} go into great detail about the processes that brought me to my current complexity.

At BPI, energy connections between people were visualized as “cords” running between their chakras. Given the norm of keeping “psychic spaces” separate and independent, these connections with energy being transferred from person to person were viewed as improper, unbalancing, and generally stressful. Their solutions were to try to avoid gratifying the other person by reacting to the stress, and to later “clean out your space” - remove the accumulated foreign energy using meditation, or direct manipulation “healing” {future link} techniques.

Without such concepts and techniques, most of us respond to this kind of stress by resisting the encroachment if we can, or by absorbing it if we are not strong enough to resist successfully. In the short term, absorbed stress manifests as anxiety, muscle tension, and a familiar list of bodily symptoms. People who are aware of their chakras and energy flow may recognize that they are blocked or closed in certain areas. If this kind of stress continues over the longer term, it gets transferred to the psychoros.


Up to a point, the psychoros can tolerate the stress, preserve its former configuration, and return to the unstressed state if the external influence is removed. But unlike the body, the psychoros is not bound by the rules of photographic representation. If the stress becomes too great, or if a particular opportunity happens to present itself, the psychoros can suddenly re-configure itself according to rules that have little to do with photographic representation. Once it has made such a transition, the psychoros typically loses all memory of its previous state, and tries to preserve the new configuration. The conscious mind, bound to the rules of language and photography, lacks any means to explain or remember what happened, and does its best to hide any incompatibilities between the new environment and the old.

Typically the external event that triggered a reconfiguration, particularly the first one, will be remembered even though the nature and meaning of the change is not. It may be the kind of trauma or tragedy that leads to post-traumatic stress disorders and other recognized afflictions. Or it may be a mysterious and socially unrecognized event like some of my childhood experiences. Once the psychoros has lost its original simplicity and “wholeness”, additional reconfigurations become much easier to trigger.

During the endless hours of childhood I spent observing and experimenting with the inner workings of my existence, I caught on to how to manipulate the configuration of my own psychoros. I learned how to tune out stress, and particularly how to adapt to being forced to wear lenses that would otherwise have made life unbearably painful. To accomplish this I necessarily gave up large parts of the person I could otherwise have become. And then I gradually forgot the whole process, retaining only trivial keywords about a few odd and disconnected events. Without the chance encounter that set me following a trail of preverbal “breadcrumbs” into the past, those experiences would probably have remained lost forever.

Given a ride in a time-machine, I suspect I would smash all my lenses and rebel against the pressures that ruled my childhood. Since I can’t erase the past, I guess the best I can do is try to explain it. For you linear readers, the next logical bit of the story compares the psychoros to the firmware of a computer.


Table of Contents

Revised 11 December 2012