Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Unconscious, Doctor Strange, and Strange Unconscious

Written by: on November 17, 2023

If we want to understand the unconscious

                                                                    —if we want to make it our friend and ally—

                                                                               the best strategy is to learn how to listen to it

-Daniel Z. Lieberman-


In the movie “Doctor Strange”, Dr. Strange is initially portrayed as a pompous medical doctor. He felt that he had high standards of human intelligence and mastered the most advanced and the latest medical technology, especially in surgery. This shaped him into a person who found it difficult to accept things or possibilities outside of medical science that humans had. One day, he had an accident that was severe enough that his physical condition, especially his hands that he relied on to perform surgery, became no longer the same as before. Amid his frustration, he tried to find a way to find answers to the problems he faced. He then got information, that there was a place in Nepal that was said to heal a person’s physical injuries no matter how heavy it was. He went to Nepal and finally met a man with extraordinary powers, The Ancient One, who then appointed Doctor Strange as his student, training Doctor Strange so that he had “unfathomable” powers to become one of the guardians of the world and the universe.


In that movie, one interesting question that The Ancient One asks Dr. Strange is: “You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?”[1] Then other questions are no less interesting, which say: “You think you know how the world works? You think that this material universe is all there is? What is real? What mysteries lie beyond the reach of your senses?”[2] Even though this is only a movie, this interesting story and questions broke through my ego wall. I was reflecting on the question if it were directed at me. What if what The Ancient One says is reality? I really can’t find the answer. In my opinion, there is still so much unspeakable knowledge stored in this universe.


After a long time of “forgetting” the movie, I was faced with this week’s reading assignment, Dr. Daniel Lieberman’s “Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind.” This book made me completely dumbfounded. How not, Lieberman points out that so far we humans do not fully “master” ourselves. There is something that controls us, called the “unconscious” instinct. Lieberman explains that the unconscious is “a vast collection of neural circuits working all the time, just out of sight—just out of mind. It determines what we feel, want, express, and often possesses us completely and plunging us into an alien world of mystical experience.”[3] Lieberman explains that he’s the one who controls us all along so we don’t really “take control” of ourselves. Lieberman writes, “at best you’re the copilot. At worst, you’re along for the ride, at the mercy of a part of your brain that’s overwhelmingly powerful but entirely unseen, influential but utterly secret from you.” Amazing!


Lieberman explains that the “ego (from the Latin word to refer to I), is described as conscious. The rest of the human mind is called unconscious.”[4] Lieberman explains that “we don’t experience directly the interaction with the unconscious so when it comes to interacting with the ego, we often think of it as a foreign power.”[5] The interesting part is when Lieberman reveals the fact that the conscious has less power to run processes, while the unconscious, on the contrary, requires more power because it consists of circuits that work in parallel at the same time doing many processes with complex tasks.[6] This reminds me of Daniel Kahneman’s writing in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow which reviews the working system of the human brain into System 1 and System 2. Kahneman writes, “System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps.”[7]


Humans are mostly alienated from the unconscious because of the density of routines that demand that everything be done instantly with little energy so that the rest can still be used for other things. Moreover, the rapid advancement of technology and digital culture is carried out for one purpose, namely efficiency (I think the more efficiency is generated the more work immediately confronts to be completed). Lieberman uses a dialogue in the movie Speed Racer about the importance of listening. Hear what from whom? In the film, it is told, hearing from a car. Lieberman writes, “Feel it talking to you, telling you what she wants, what she needs. All you gotta do is listen”.[8] Yes, that’s right! The word “listen” is scattered in Lieberman’s writing. Lieberman seems to invite us to listen to many things, to everything. He explains that when the ego sees everything as practice resources, to the unconscious this is the world filled with friends.[9]


From there Lieberman steps into what is an important emphasis in his book, namely how we can understand the unconscious. The strategy is to listen to it, even if it’s not an easy thing. The unconscious, according to Lieberman, “with its irrational and complementary perspective, challenges the ego’s orderly world, often perceived as chaotic and hostile, confronting it with primitive drives.”[10] The task and responsibility of the ego here is not easy because it intends to understand something alienated, and rejected, but helps a lot too. Lieberman describes, “The first task is to strengthen the ego so that it can listen with its full attention and not become fatigued while safely facing the archetypal forces that emerge. Additionally, the ego must learn to set aside its bias toward understanding through logos— language and reason—and open itself up to nonverbal, experiential forms of communication.”[11]


Frankly, after surfing Lieberman’s writing, I felt estranged from myself. Similar to Dr. Strange thinks that he knows a lot due to his intelligence, when he knows very little, therefore, I now perceive myself in a similar light. I should rejoice due to Lieberman’s writing helping me encounter the part of myself, the unconscious. The problem now, it seems like a strange aspect of myself. It is the “strange unconscious.” How could it control me more during this time without my awareness? Following Lieberman’s suggestion in this book, I might learn to comprehend (specifically, listen) my unconscious so that I can be a balanced, effective, and beneficial leader and servant to others.

[1] https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-great-quotes-from-the-movie-Dr-Strange. Accessed on November 16, 2023.

[2] https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-great-quotes-from-the-movie-Dr-Strange. Accessed on November 16, 2023.

[3] Lieberman, Daniel Z. Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc, 2022), 1.

[4] Lieberman, 14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012), 22-23

[8] Lieberman, 36.

[9] Ibid, 28.

[10] Ibid, 221.

[11] Ibid, 221-222

About the Author


Dinka Utomo

Dinka Nehemia Utomo is an ordained pastor of the Protestant Church in the Western part of Indonesia (Gereja Protestan di Indonesia bagian Barat or GPIB). He has served for more than 15 years. The first five years of his ministry were in the remote area of East Kalimantan, including people from the indigenous Dayak tribe in the small villages in the middle of the forest, frequently reached using small boats down the river. For more than 15 years, Dinka has served several GPIB congregations in several cities in Indonesia. He has always had a passion for equipping Christian families, teaching and guiding them to build equal relations between husband and wife, maintaining commitment, love, and loyalty, creating a healthy and constructive Christian family atmosphere, and rejecting all forms of violence and sexual violence. Dinka's beloved wife, Verra, is also a GPIB pastor. They have two blessed children. Dinka and his wife and children love to spend quality family time, such as lunch or dinner, and vacation to exotic places.

10 responses to “Unconscious, Doctor Strange, and Strange Unconscious”

  1. Cathy Glei says:

    Great post Dinka! I’m trying to remember if I have viewed Doctor Strange. I have this weird phenomenon that happens when I sit down to watch a movie, I fall asleep (not all movies). :). I’ll ask my husband and he will remind me. Ha, ha! Maybe it is an unconscious thing?

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Cathy! Thank you for your comment.

      I think you have to watch the movie once again. I use that movie as an analogy concerning my reflection on Dr. Lieberman’s writing. I see there is a connection that I can make between the movie and the book.

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Dinka,
    I love how you pulled out of our reading that a key strategy for understanding our subconscious is to listen to it. You highlighted one of Lieberman’s critical tasks, “The first task is to strengthen the ego so that it can listen with its full attention and not become fatigued while safely facing the archetypal forces that emerge.” We have to know we are more than just OK with ourselves. Knowing that we are deeply loved by God can help us. What are other strategies that help you listen safely?

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Jenny! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it! Absolutely! We’re deeply loved by The Almighty God in the name of Jesus.
      Dr. Lieberman’s writing just reminds me about it. We as God’s creation are made by HIS powerful love.
      Another strategy from me regarding listening is practicing meditation much more in the future, discerning God’s voice within my self.

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Dinka,
    Your blogpost is thought provoking. I found Jenny Dooley’s post quite interesting too.

    She writes, Jenny – How do we integrate the disciplines of science and religion, the mystical and the rational, the conscious and the unconscious in effort to become our truest self and remain grounded in our faith?

    She then adds…Our Christian faith and spirituality are gifts that come along side to help us safely engage the unconscious mind.

    Dr. Lieberman lands on meditation with the appropriate caveats and warnings which also apply to our spiritual practices.[15] Christian spiritual practices offer us ancient ways of engaging with our unconscious mind and integrating our shadow self. Spiritual practices that have aided my journey thus far are lectio divina, the examen, centering prayer and breath prayer, and spiritual direction. All encourage awareness of God’s presence and activity in my life, center me on God’s loving-kindness, and gently move me closer to my truest self in Christ.

    She went on to provide Christian sources that help equip us to deal with the unconscious mind.


    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Russel! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it!

      Absolutely! Jenny’s post is so insightful to me. I can see how she tries to make a balance between science and faith. And she made it!

  4. Adam Harris says:

    Doctor Strange is one of my favorite Marvel movies! That’s a great scene and a fantastic way to visualize the threshold moment from materialism to the immaterial. There is alot I don’t understand about the immaterial both in my head and the spiritual, but it makes me curious and, like you said, encourages me to listen more to what that still small voice is telling me.

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Adam! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it!

      Both immaterial and spiritual things are around and within us. To listen or to discern is one of the most helpful strategies to learn and to understand it.

  5. The way Dr. Strange undergoes a transformation, in the movie and Liebermans insights into the mind have a connection. It’s fascinating to think that our ego represents a part of who we are while the vast unconscious exerts more influence. I’m curious about your perspective on Dr. Stranges journey from being a scientist, to embracing the unknown and how it relates to your journey of comprehending and engaging with the unconscious mind as proposed by Liebermans work.

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Mathieu! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it!

      In my perspective concerning the movie and the book, there is one basic commonness which is an open-minded and willingness to listen to something we don’t know at all.

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