Writing and the Collective Consciousness

I have two favorite examples of the collective consciousness. The first is on a small scale and it comes from Apple. I do not use an iPhone, but I have an iPod that I use every day to listen to music. iPod has what they call genius playlists. I pick a song from my collection. In a few seconds’ time, Apple examines all the songs that other iTunes users have purchased. Then my iPod generates a playlist based on that data and the songs I own. These playlists are nearly always good, and nearly always surprising.

The second example of collective consciousness operates on a much larger scale in Nevada sports books and in the global betting market. A bookmaker sets a line for a contest, and then people put their money on one side or the other of that number. As the money goes, the spread changes so that the sports book can come out even. The collective consciousness shows itself in the final score of the game, which an amazing part of the time ends up right at the spread, or the place where all those betters have decided it should be. How do they know? Individually they don’t. They all lose, all the time. Together, however, they know exactly what’s going to happen in the game, BEFORE IT IS EVER PLAYED.

At the writer’s workshop that started me working on this blog, there was an author by the name of Robert Leonard Reid. Mr. Reid spoke about the importance of revision. He was unimpressed with the current quality of our letters. He made me an instant friend when he held up Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and said that it was the only guide a writer needs. Mr. Reid also said something that I’m not sure I agree with. He mentioned several novels that were published in the years 1850-1855. I believe the titles were Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, and Leaves of Grass. Mr. Reid said that he feared there would never again be a five year period that produced such amazing work.

I think there were other factors at play in that impressive string. The most important to me would be changes in social values, availability of printing presses, and a growing awareness of a world that extended past the end of Dad’s farm. We have seen similar periods of genius in music and art. What I am trying to say is, the stories are out there. There is always greatness present, somewhere, and saying that we will never again see genius because of the “dumbing down” of society is admitting that the devil has won.

The fact is, the changes around us caused by technology and globalization may have us perched on the brink of a new age of greatness. It may show itself at any time, with a new generation of great writers, musicians, artists, or in a field we have not even imagined yet. They will not be recognized as great because they write a new Moby Dick. They will be recognized as great because they do something that has never been seen before.

How does this affect me? Well, I am a human being, and therefore, I am a part of the collective consciousness. As a writer, it is my job to observe, and imagine, and write. I don’t have to know what trigger will propel my art to prominence. It is not my job to know. It is my job to create, and create well, and hope that what I produce fits so well into the tapestry of human experience that it becomes inescapable.


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