DSM V: The Final Frontier

By the year 2050, it was beginning to dawn on humanity that it had a deeper working knowledge of outer space than its own inner nature. The uncertainty attending the shift in perspective produced strange effects within a generation. A crippling stasis gripped cultures world-wide. Medication therapies no longer allayed symptoms which had steadily ballooned over a century.

Irrational obsessions and compulsive urges of the weirdest subjective varieties were pandemic, threatening the very fabric of human relations. The sovereign sanctuaries of home and neighborhood transformed into violent hot-boxes of emotional projection seemingly overnight. Ongoing armed conflicts dotted the world map.

Disaffected loners and accumulations of like-minded tribal personalities choked law enforcement, fueling its own guarded paranoia. Entire governments were insolubly locked in petty dispute. Divorce statistics soared with birth rates, even as traditional marriages plummeted and same-sex partnerships splurged. The heavy burdens of civilization called psychiatry to task. 

The year: 2070. We join Capt. Abnorm Drowze aboard the Starship Innerguise, deep in inner-galactic space. The crew’s mission: to locate the most elusive and mysterious form of matter ever conceived. Psychiatry wouldn’t survive without it; indeed, life as mankind had hitherto known it now appeared so irrational that half its world was estimated as unassimilable by reason.

Science called it “the God factor,” and it would furnish the first truly objective reference point for human nature. The neurosciences knew it involved chemical interactions in the brain; they could see them light up on the scans. But, psychiatry needed something more tangible than an electronic game-show to confirm it. It would go in search of the mysterious substance and justify body-psychology once and for all… 

The elusive “God-tissue in the fabric of matter” was a promising theory in the early 21st century — psychiatry flourished. Later studies, however, attributed its short-lived success to scientific credulity and the stiff resistance to self-examination. Its apparent objectivity, they avowed, only contributed to a global epidemic of pathological symptoms such as humanity had never seen — except in the general relations which constituted its entire history. The old gene-structure no longer immunized against these new mutations of discontent. Could psychiatry redeem itself?

This fifth incursion into the subjective mind by the APA-backed interest-group, Diagnostics and Social Mediocrity, was heralded by an incredible virtual reality trip through the brain in which the team of explorers “lived” its inner workings first-hand with the aid of computer game programs. Microscopic technology was now able to shrink thought to minute proportions; to experience brain-biology in its most elemental form. 

“Shrinks Shrink Thought!” the Washington Compost headlined. The virtual program was given the moniker, Starship Innerguise, and Dr. Drowze was the first choice to helm the ambitious project. “Once we identify it, we’ll know a lot more.” he assured at the press conference amid great fan-fare.

The “Dream Team” sailed comfortably through the cortex and frontal lobe but experienced turbulence in the parietal lobe. The ship was tossed rhythmically, frightening the crew. Once into the cerebellum, they came under direct attack by “androgynes”. Capt. Drowze ordered deployment of the ship’s deflective shield. “The eerie figures changed shape at will and flew at us without let.” he relayed once they’d re-established communications with the cortex. “It was crazy!”

The deflective shield bounced the team back into the frontal lobe just in time to dodge the disintegrating effects of the intense emotional images. Hostile neurons fired into the craft like missiles. The control room had meantime piled up with print-out data-sheets, and the crew had difficulty maneuvering around the great heaps of information. “Rational assessment became a liability.” Capt. Drowze later adjudged. The world waited expectorantly as the team dared the limits of human experience.

Tech-Dr. Norm L. Persons was manning the deflective shield when the team lost its way. “I couldn’t describe it. The data-sheets showed equilibrium, but the ship was in complete chaos.” Some suffered schizophrenic reactions before the shield was activated. Even a few minutes under such pressurized conditions can shatter the ego, leaving it porous and vulnerable to psychotic influences.

The official investigation concluded that the team was not sufficiently prepared emotionally, and the dangerous images quickly subverted their aims when they strayed into the cerebellum. “It was like it was just waiting for us.” said one crew-member. “Even Capt. Drowze’s emergency self-medication kits wouldn’t make it go away.”

When the team was deluged by the unsavory wraiths, it took the decisive reality function of Capt. Drowze to bring it back to focus. “Dammit, man! Activate the shield! We’re looking for a real thing!” He later described the tense moment: “Look, all I knew was, we were looking for a real, concrete object and those androgynes were determined to stop us. We needed to get out of there — and fast! The direct experience of psychotic processes does things to one. If not treated immediately with a stringent regimen of medication therapy buttressed by concrete concepts, it can have mind-bending consequences.”

The rest of the team remains quarantined in the laboratory, undergoing the de-sensitization process which has become a practical reality-gauge for science in recent decades. Capt. Drowze remains unshaken by the daunting experience, though he did admit that “it had a somewhat harrowing effect vis-a-vis current psychiatric theory.”

Once out of quarantine, the team is expected to resume normal activities, though members will be closely monitored and tested every six months to “make sure whatever that thing was in there doesn’t metastasize.” Radiation therapy has been proposed should behavioral complications arise.

While a thorough projection of the data is years away, preliminary signals are that much has already been learned. A digital photon enhancer translated electro-chemical reactions in the cerebellum into photographs which were then collated to simulate the images experienced by the crew during their ordeal in that distant netherworld. The team was so traumatized that no one, not even Dr. Drowze, was able to retrieve memories of the event. Was it a dream? They relied on the pictures to reveal what had gone on in there.

“We saw something in those pictures –” Dr. Drowze pondered, “something we’d never seen before. It appeared real to all of us, though we can’t be sure at this point.” He seemed doubtful that even Eye Rotation Therapy would abet them under such conditions. “This is not comorbid with anything we’ve seen in the cerebro-spinal system.” He looked deeply pensive. “Someone has suggested that perhaps we saw God.”

He admitted laughing at the hubris of it at first but has since reconsidered. “Whatever it was in those pictures definitely appeared to be carbon based. Whether or not it was God, only the data can tell us.” He admitted he felt safe back in his office as he fondled the pictures beamed back from the cerebellum. “You know…” he mused, gazing at the worn photos, “the brain is a fascinating thing.” He chuckled, “It does strange things to a man.”

Step outside the science for a real journey into the unconscious.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Humor

Does Abstract Science Equal Concrete Psychology?

“Concretism sets too high a value on the importance of facts and suppresses the freedom of the individual for the sake of objective data. But since the individual is conditioned not merely by physiological stimuli but by factors which may even be opposed to external realities, concretism results in a projection… of these inner factors into the objective data and produces an almost superstitious veneration of mere facts…”  Carl Jung — Psychological Types.

Jung defined concretism as: “the antithesis of abstraction… The actual meaning of concrete is “grown together.” A concretely thought concept is one that has grown together… with other concepts.” His phenomenological approach was an extension of a philosophical phenomenology generally described as “the study of subjective experience.” But, it was his comparative historical approach which defined his concepts, and his studies of primitive psychology laid the empirical foundations:

“Primitive thinking and feeling are entirely concretistic; they are always related to sensation. The thought of the primitive has no detached independence but clings to material phenomena.” Primitive consciousness, for example, is drawn into the object to such an extent that it “does not experience the idea of divinity as a subjective content.” Hmm.

The primitive mind is so mesmerized by the immediacy of sensory reality that perception is indistinguishable from thought. Jung wrote that thoughts simply “happen” to the primitive — just as dreams happen in the modern mind. The psyche arranges the raw material of perception into patterns which, as science and religion show, reflect specific functions. Today, consciousness is confronted with the task of distinguishing inside from outside on a higher level.

Though modern sensibilities might take offense at such comparisons, without them it’s impossible to determine where we are (and where we’re going) in our development. By observing how the psyche has worked over thousands of years, Jung was able to establish an outline of its natural functioning.

“In civilized man, concretistic thinking consists in the inability to conceive of anything except immediately obvious facts transmitted by the senses, or in the inability to discriminate between subjective feeling and the sensed object.” That the most sophisticated abstract thinking could be concrete at the same time is one of the paradoxes of psychic reality.

The primitive idea of divinity as an external object is closely enough related to the idea of a heavenly god (or the conception of god in matter to which Stephen Hawking referred) to get some sense not only of our psychological development but the opposed nature of the functions dictating it. The most basic one relates us to our environment: sense-perception — and scientific preoccupations reveal as much about our unconscious relations to nature as abstract thinking reveals about our relations to ourselves.

“Concretism… falls under the more general concept of participation mystique… Just as the latter represents a fusion of the individual with external objects, concretism represents a fusion of thinking and feeling with sensation, so that the object of one is at the same time the object of the other. This fusion prevents any differentiation of thinking and feeling and keeps them both within the sphere of sensation…

“The disadvantage of concretism is the subjection of the functions to sensation. Because sensation is the perception of physiological stimuli, concretism either rivets the function to the sensory sphere or constantly leads back to it. This results in a bondage of the psychological functions to the senses, favouring the influence of sensual facts at the expense of the psychic independence of the individual. So far as the recognition of facts is concerned this orientation is naturally of value, but not as regards the interpretation of facts and their relation to the individual.”

Jung here brings into focus the subtle relationship between subjective reality and objective science. The profound opposition in our natures is a fundamental psychic condition, and there is stark evidence of it in everything we do. Only now, with the accelerated advance of technology, are we discovering that the mere recognition of it is not sufficient to interpret its consequences.

Narrow the window of time from several hundred centuries to the last fifty years, and you may get a picture of the trajectory of a highly developed intellect which is unable to distinguish itself from the objects of its attention. What may be seen from one perspective may be invisible from another and, though it’s always been, the last century shows the one-sidedness of consciousness to be an increasing threat not only to itself but to all life.

The value of the individual is presupposed by nature. Just as she formed collective instincts to serve life’s purposes, she also placed a premium on the creative instincts of the individual to achieve them. Jung wrote: “Nature cares nothing for the individual yet prizes the individual above all else.”. The paradox of our opposition, “factors which may even be opposed to external reality”, demands more than that we simply follow the lures of science and technology like herd animals. Our inability to see through its illusion is killing us — and everything we touch.

But, how to begin? Continue reading.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

Psyche, Symbol, and Science

“… the science of psychology is still in its infancy… the empirical material, the object of scientific investigation, cannot be displayed in concrete form, as it were… The psychological investigator is… obliged to make use of an indirect method… to present the reality he has observed.” – Carl Jung, Psychological Types.

Reality. Our notions of what that word implies have changed considerably over the last hundred years. The current fascination with objectivity and the material world would seem to have created a new image of it, and few events in our history so startlingly conspired to make us re-think our former religious views than those of a century ago.

WWI served notice of an exponential trend in our development: as science and rational thought gained momentum, a primitive collective nature asserted itself on a broader scale. The isolated study of matter produced an unparalleled means of destruction, and it wasn’t coincidental that the sudden increase in consciousness accentuated instinctual tendencies.

At that time, Jung was defining an empirical psychology which could make sense of a psychic reality. But, as conventional science immersed itself in the search for objective truth, the split in our natures widened:

Within three decades, the projections of an intellect bound to the senses formed a stark new image of humanity: World War II and an Iron Curtain symbolized ego’s increasing dissociation from its emotional foundations. It was also no accident that these developments paralleled a decline in religious values:

“Only insofar as elementary facts are… amenable to… measurement can there be any question of a direct presentation. But how much of the actual psychology of man can be experienced and observed as quantitatively measurable facts? Such facts do exist, and I believe I have shown in my association studies that extremely complicated psychological facts are accessible to quantitative measurement. But anyone who has probed more deeply… than that it should confine itself within the narrow limits of the scientific method, will also have realized that an experimental method will never succeed in doing justice to the nature of the human psyche, nor will it ever project anything like a true picture of the more complex psychic phenomena.

“But once we leave the domain of measurable facts we are dependent on concepts, which have now to take over the role of measure and number. The precision which measure and number lend to the observed facts can be replaced only by the precision of the concept… One has only to take the concept of “feeling”… to visualize… the variability and ambiguity of psychological concepts… And yet the concept of feeling does express something characteristic that, though not susceptible of quantitative measurement… palpably exists. One simply cannot resign oneself… to a mere denial of such essential and fundamental phenomena… In this way an essential part of psychology is thrown overboard.

“In order to escape the ill consequences of this overvaluation of the scientific method, one is obliged to have recourse to well-defined concepts.” For Jung, it was only through a symbolic mode of observation based on empirically derived concepts that psychology could bridge the disparity between conscious and unconscious. His definition of abstraction clarified the problem:

“Abstraction is an activity pertaining to the psychological functions… in general… Abstract thinking singles out the rational, logical qualities of a given content from its intellectually irrelevant components.” Science is a thinking activity which excludes feeling; and as a general attitude, it lacks empathy. An advanced technology capable of mass destruction without having to see or feel its effects is a dangerous tool in the hands of a dissociated intellect.

“… I also associate abstraction with the awareness of the… process it involves. When I take an abstract attitude to an object, I do not allow the object to affect me in its totality; I focus my attention on one part of it by excluding all the irrelevant parts… my interest does not flow into the whole, but draws back from it, pulling the abstracted part… into my my conceptual world… “Interest” I conceive as the energy… I bestow on the object as a value, or which the object draws from me, maybe even against my will or unknown to myself.”

But when the object of study is ourselves, we need a way to conceive how and why the unconscious is so often opposed to our intent. Whose humanity lives in the dark shadow-projections, the “ill consequences of this overvaluation of the scientific method”? Symbolic realities aside, there are quantitatively measurable facts which suggest that our alienation from ourselves only deepens with ego’s independence. War is a lot of things, but it’s also a business — and business is booming.

Psychology, too, is a booming business — like the science of weaponry, medical technology, or any other human need offered up to the underside of commercial exploitation. The science of objective data has not only done little to improve the conditions of the human soul, it’s tricked itself into believing that it’s outgrown the need for one. The shadow-effects of ego are observable only through concepts which presuppose them. Without them, they don’t exist — and yet…

Trying to subject the mysteries of an unconscious reality to the conscious will of a dissociated culture (conventional psychology’s conception of disease) may be good business for some — for now; but, like an advanced technology in the hands of an alienated ego, it only increases our confusion.

For an example of the symbolic process that leads back to the unconscious values beneath modern assumptions, read more here, or visit Amazon.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

Jung’s Mysticism Re-examined

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and every other living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Because it contains our living history in symbolic form, Jung wrote that any serious inquiry into the unconscious leads straight into the religious problem. What he meant is not exactly what Stephen Hawking imagined as “knowing the mind of God” through the study of matter. It can’t be defined or measured as precisely as physicists might prefer; and though it can be described empirically, Hawking’s ideal is an intellectual makeshift with no psychological foundation to support it.  

Jung’s postulation of a variety of different but equally valid psychic realities based on his types studies, the subjectivity of consciousness, the collective spirit of the times, the unconscious basis of perception, the symbolic nature of the psyche, and the accidental and irrational realities of life make the study of the mind (and God) a very uncertain business. 

Behind Jung’s empiricism were experiences and intuitions which led to his study of symbols. Because it was based on a comparative view of history, it doesn’t really look like science to the standardized formula of observation, experiment, repetition, and verification of the physical model. But, as he showed, it’s the only way we can observe ourselves outside the subjective limitations of a fluctuating and relative ego bound to its own time and place. 

Unconscious complexes analogize our functioning through symbolic ideas, and Jung’s work was in many ways a conceptual attempt to relate the emotional processes which push them into awareness. Emotions in general, and religious ones in particular, are based on different needs than thought alone can evaluate. Without some feeling-sense of how the psyche works, some concept of our irrationality, we’re stuck in the intellect with no relation to the psychic forces which drive and maintain us.

Consciousness has changed considerably since the last generation of religious authorities instructed a believing flock on its accountability before God. Though lacking psychological knowledge, conscious devotion along with a philosophical mindset maintained the functional requirements with which nature outfitted us to contend with ourselves. But, the old metaphysical projections were not just static reflections of conscious development at a given point in time.

Ideas of divine heritage were not only symbols of how we once conceived ourselves but images of what we would become. The unconscious contains our history as well the seeds of our futures. Today, the old symbols are a frightening revelation of an ego so enamored with itself that it would willfully and knowingly destroy all that would sustain it and its children while still maintaining the god-given right to do so.

Otherworldly (conscious) fixations, along with our self-appointed stewardship of the earth reflected in the above quote, have become crimes against nature of cosmic proportion. Today, we’re contending with everything and everyone but ourselves.

The intuitive wisdom of the past was too subjectively and concretely conceived to apply to our modern conflicts. The new objectivity, however, is as literal and collective as the old view, though values have shifted to the material world — and with it, new forms of destruction.

The soul, the old religious prototype of the individual’s relation to a greater (natural) reality, now lies buried beneath statistical averages and social norms: the only truth the rational viewpoint can connect with. The contemporary cult of the commercial mass-man reflects an inner disorientation, and no objective science can replace the soul’s value. 

The history of our mental functioning was the focus of Jung’s work. To discover new meaning in the old symbols requires a psychological/spiritual model. In a culture driven by scientific materialism, the history of who we really are is repressed and denied to such an extent that we no longer recognize our animal natures; though, our world predicament still tells the ancient story.  

Self-confrontation was once the basis of religious conversion: the first-half charge of youth to forge its place in the world was eventually driven to reflect on a reality greater than its struggle with the external environment. The wisdom of the ages provided the reference point for that transition. Today, there are no ages of wisdom to submit to, no greater realities to accept or convert to. The new truth is a pre-packed conformity, marketed as progress, devoid of the history which alone informs where we are in our development.

The old road map no longer reflects the topography of inner life. Our GPS vision can’t pinpoint the intimate personal by-ways of the compulsions, phobias, crippling depressions, lurking anxieties, and over-consumption which now belie the soul’s repression. Understanding the changes in consciousness, especially in the last century, is more important with each new technological advancement.

The scientization of the soul can’t tame the beast in us any more than could the subjective half-truths of the former view. The soul doesn’t care about logic, statistics, or light-years. It’s function is the emotional stability of the individual. As Jung remarked: a million zeroes don’t add up to one.

The alien face of an objective history now stares back at us through Nietzsche’s dead god, the backward self-deception of commercialism, the needy diversions of technological obsession — “disorders” in those whose unconscious natures can’t and won’t be reconciled to a cultural norm which only accentuates them.

Below the material, the metaphysical, the new intellect’s subjective objectivity, the dark mirrors of the soul seek the reflection of conscious light. Modern examples of the spiritual/emotional processes behind Jung’s symbolic view hold little value for the narrow commercial focus of psychology today.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

The Spirit of the Times

Jung’s model of the psyche was a basic one with an immense body of empirical material behind it. It often requires going back to fundamentals to re-think the misconceptions he strove to clarify. Even more so today than in his time, an object-focused perspective has difficulty connecting with the subjective nature of knowledge he advanced.

The discoveries of depth psychology: our animalness, our bisexuality, and the inherently religious character of the psyche — all of which knowledge is supported by the respective disciplines — are only loose, dissociated facts until we can incorporate them into a meaningful whole. Today’s specialized sciences are so exclusive that it’s easy to lose sight of the psychological implications of all our knowledge. One of the tasks of psychology is to give our search a human direction.

What Jung saw as scientific materialism in the twentieth century — a counter-swing away from the Church toward natural inquiry — only gains momentum into the new millennium as commercial interests attempt to enhance and exploit our fascination with things and technology in ever more deceptive ways.

Just as an unconscious worldly spirit worked through alchemy to balance an otherworldly religious perspective and guide it back toward earthly reality, the new viewpoint swings toward the opposite extreme. Symbolic disorders have a spiritual aspect, though more often than not treated with medications — projections which, if not in theory at least in practice, are designed to relieve consciousness of its spiritual confusion. What were once religious problems between man, god, and nature are now conflicts between man, his culture, and his own nature. 

A neglected soul imparts little wisdom to an intellect bound to the senses, and the universal mysteries once projected into religious ideas have fallen back into the personal psyche. As Jung showed, consciousness can in no way contend with such powerful instinctual forces solely on its own devices. Though we would be superhuman, animal tendencies yet make us inhuman, and we treat others as such without knowing it.

Jung saw the image of man as being pre-determined. Just as every seed contains its future form, each is compelled toward what nature intended it to be. From the very dawn of self-consciousness symbolized in the story of Eden through our evolution into civilized societies, natural instinctive processes have guided our development. The idea of being “made in the image of God” was a symbolic intuition of it, intended to carry forward that distant seed of reflection. 

Psychologically, the energy needed to produce consciousness is generated by unconscious conflicts between contending stages of development. Every child is outfitted with the forms corresponding to their progression. On a deeper level than parental instruction, these archetypes support and prepare the developing mind and push it through its evolutionary history into the contemporary stage — or thereabout.

The process of becoming self-aware condensed in the story of Eden was felt as disobedience (or opposition) to the law of unconscious wholeness. It reflected a capacity for choice, for weighing possibilities beyond animal instinct. As it grew, it gradually split the psyche into two separate systems. As the myth says, it was initiated not by a god but by the conflicts of conscious choice amid opposing impulses symbolized by the snake. It requires an earthly spiritual function to mediate instinct in a split mind, and all choice is relative to it. Images of space and other worlds still describe our dissociation from nature’s inner reality.

As we evolve, we identify with certain functions which signal new stages of development. New forms supersede older ones, though the old functions don’t disappear. The original Adam (consciousness) who emerged from the blind world of nature constitutes a profound spiritual conflict — one we can no more outgrow than the mind can outgrow the body.

The soul as mediator of spirit, of instinct, in its consciously developed form is a religious function which took centuries to define. Though it was a form of consciousness, intellectual understanding wasn’t necessary to connect with it even a century ago. The development of thought has outpaced the older form of consciousness, and today we need psychological tools to understand who we are beneath the blind misdirection of subjective focus.  As we once bowed to God as an image of unity, of unconscious wholeness, so we yield to natural laws.

In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann addressed the uneven psychological development of the modern individual: “This betrays itself in many ways — for example, as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity — all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.”

We’re products of nature. Beneath the illusion of conscious unity, we live on in old philosophical assumptions which have passed unexamined from generation to generation: symbols which would define the split in our natures. The scientific materialism of today is too deeply opposed to the symbolic view to facilitate reconciliation. Its truth is in need of its opposite. The door to that opposite was opened by Jung’s comparative method, and we need to swing it wide to contend with the dangerous extremes produced by an unconscious nature.

For an idea of the emotional processes which lead back into the symbolic world of reflection, read more here, or visit Amazon.

2 Comments

Filed under Psychology, Self-development

Natural Science for an Artificial Consciousness

I recently quoted Erich Neumann’s observations on the “mass man” and related them to the social-commercial mindset which has been so carefully cultivated since his time. Just as there are historical reasons for what’s happening today, there are also hidden purposes which lend perspective to the unconscious processes behind the causes.

To say that mainstream psychology has not only failed to address what may be one of the most defining cultural transitions in human history, but actually contributes to its unconsciousness, might seem a harsh statement. But as much as Jung cautioned against giving too much weight to technique and statistical evaluation, current trends confirm his concerns:

There are reasons for the increase in psychological disorders in the last fifty years that reach far below the surface god-likeness of the medical persona, the subjective nature of psychological diagnosis, and psychiatry’s unvarnished partnership with the pharmaceutical industry.

Jung defined two kinds of science: the rational, statistical kind more designed for a concrete world of objects and the subjective, symbolic kind which is relative to how we perceive it. To establish a verifiable science of the inner world of perception required the comparative reduction of ideas to their common properties: instinctual patterns he called archetypes. His was a science of philosophy: a means of accessing unconscious values never before conceived. Here are some empirical facts as Jung described them in, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche:

This discussion is on the “… scientific, but purely rationalistic conception of the unconscious. When we speak of instincts we imagine we are talking about something known, but in reality we are talking about something unknown. As a matter of fact, all we know is that effects come to us from the dark sphere of the psyche which somehow or other must be assimilated into consciousness if devastating disturbances of other functions are to be avoided.

“… just as a person can repress a disquieting wish and thereby cause its energy to contaminate other functions, so he can shut out a new idea that is alien to him so that its energy flows off into other functions and disturbs them.” The process I would draw attention to is the increasing repression of the religious instinct. Science and religion today are at odds as never before, and that conflict is certain to have disturbing effects.

“… Under these circumstances, the unconscious seems like a great X, concerning which the only thing indisputably known is that important effects proceed from it. A glance at the world religions shows us just how important these effects are historically. And a glance at the suffering of modern man shows us the same thing — we merely express ourselves somewhat differently.”

Though the jargon of “mental disease” has changed since Jung’s time, his message has not: “Three hundred years ago, a woman was said to be possessed of a devil, now we say she has a hysteria. Formerly a subject was said to be bewitched, now the trouble is called a neurotic dyspepsia. The facts are the same; only the previous explanation, psychologically speaking, is almost exact, whereas our rationalistic description of symptoms is really without content. For if I say that someone is possessed by an evil spirit, I imply that the possessed person is not legitimately ill but suffers from some invisible psychic influence which he is quite unable to control. This invisible something is an… unconscious content beyond the reach of the conscious will.”

Jung’s argument was a response to the prevailing Freudian idea of “mother-fixation” which conceived the problem of ego and instinct in terms of “infantile dependence” on the mother — a literal idea which shows the ego’s disdain for its subjection to natural law. It’s the cold teat of technology, the unconscious pabulum of political ideology, and the projection of a too-child-like psychology onto things which now trades on our most intimate desires.

Jung described it as an unconscious longing, “… an insistent demand, an aching inner emptiness, which can be forgotten from time to time but never overcome… It always returns… A good deal can be conjectured, but all that can be said with certainty is that… something unconscious voices this demand independently of consciousness and continues to raise its voice despite all criticism.

“… The primitive mind has always felt these contents to be strange and incomprehensible and, personifying them as spirits, demons, and gods, has sought to fulfil their demands by sacred and magical rites. Recognizing correctly that this hunger or thirst can be stilled neither by food nor drink… the primitive mind created images of invisible, jealous, and exacting beings, more potent and more dangerous than man, denizens of an invisible world, yet so interfused with visible reality that… spirits… dwell even in the cooking-pots.”

This, Jung called the natural psyche: the still-living instinctual source of our life-energy. “Our world, on the other hand, is freed of demons to the last trace, but the autonomous contents and their demands have remained. They express themselves partly in religion, but the more the religion is rationalized and watered down — an almost unavoidable fate — the more intricate and mysterious become the ways by which the contents of the unconscious contrive to reach us. One of the commonest ways is neurosis.”

Modern notions conceive it only negatively; a projection of guilt, a peculiarly religious attribute: ”A neurosis is usually considered to be something inferior… from the medical point of view. This is a great mistake… For behind the neurosis are hidden those powerful psychic influences which underlie our mental attitude and its guiding principles… Materialism and mysticism are a psychological pair of opposites, just like atheism and theism… two different methods of grappling with these powerful influences from the unconscious, the one by denying, the other by recognizing them.”

Science and religion are not adversaries but complimentary ways of looking at life. So fixed is this duality in the intellect, even for psychology, that a living example of coming to terms with the unconscious would be outside its rational purview.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

What’d Ya Get for Christmas?

“I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, and therewith I, they say, bring joy. Now of the joy I bring to the mother let none speak for miracles are not neatly to be caged in sentences, nor is truth always expedient. To the father I bring the sight of his own life, by him so insecurely held, renewed and strengthened in a tenement not yet impaired by time and folly: he is no more disposed to belittle himself here than elsewhere; and it is himself that he cuddles in the small, soft, incomprehensible and unsoiled incarnation. For, as I bring the children, they have no evil in them and no cowardice and no guile.” Figures of Earth — James Branch Cabell

Not long ago, I wrote a post about the commercialization of culture and its deeper psychological effects based on Erich Neumann’s insights. After seeing an advertisement by Target in which the words “What’d ya get?” were repeated ad nauseam for the reinforcement to our children of what Christmas is really about, I was reminded (post vomitus) of the stork’s soliloquy in Cabell’s, Figures of Earth:

“I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, when I later return, to those that yesterday were children. And in all ways time has marred, and living has defaced, and prudence has maimed, until I grieve to entrust that which I bring to what remains of that which yesterday I brought. In the old days children were sacrificed to a brazen burning god, but time affects more subtile hecatombs: for Moloch slew outright. Yes, Moloch, being divine, killed as the dog killed, furiously, but time is that transfigured cat, an ironist. So living mars and defaces and maims, and living appears wantonly to soil and to degrade its prey before destroying it.”

Were it that time and living the only things that soil and degrade. For Cabell, such ideas were much too vague and convenient to let the real truth of the matter escape unspoken:

“I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, and I leave them to endure that which is fated. Daily I bring into this world the beauty and innocence and high-heartedness and faith of children: but life has no employment, or else… no sustenance, for these fine things which I bring daily, for always I, returning, find the human usages of living have extinguished these excellences in those who yesterday were children, and that these virtues exist in no aged person. And I would that Jahveh had created me an eagle or a vulture or some other hated bird of prey that furthers a less grievous slaying and more intelligible wasting than I further.”

So, “human usages” (conscious intent) were the ultimate source of the stork’s disillusionment. An old allegory of Christ as well as the instinct for reflection, the stork (like any animal) symbolizes the laws of unconscious nature which “have no evil in them and no cowardice and no guile.” The openness of children is a source of wonder but, like animals, being still under their direct influence, they’re also easily manipulated by those “intelligent” enough to deem them useful for their own ends.

It’s difficult for young minds to conceive life outside the all-pervasive web of commercial deception defining today’s culture; just as it was for my generation to think outside the cult-like religious beliefs of my youth. The narrow views of yesterday, however contrived and self-centered, held one big difference: most were guided by higher values than unabashed material gain.

Though the “particle in the mass” has ever been manipulated for the wealth and power of an elite, there was, historically at least, some purpose behind “human usages” that still reflected the urge for development. However unconsciously, nature herself managed the conflicts between individual and group that pushed humanity forward: Neumann’s centroversion.

“… we prefer to call the sub-man who dwells in us moderns the “mass man” rather than the “group man,” because his psychology differs in essential respects from that of the latter. Although the genuine group man is for the most part unconscious, he nevertheless lives under the rule of centroversion… a psychic whole in which powerful tendencies are at work, making for consciousness, individualization and spiritual growth… in spite of his unconsciousness, in spite of projections, emotionality… the group man possesses… creative powers which manifest themselves in his culture, his society, his religion, his art, customs, and even in what we call his superstitions.

“The mass man lurking in the unconscious of the modern, on the other hand, is psychically a fragment, a part-personality which, when integrated, brings with it a considerable expansion of the personality, but is bound to have disastrous consequences if it acts autonomously.

“This unconscious mass component is opposed to consciousness and the world of culture. It resists conscious development, is irrational and emotional, anti-individual and destructive.”

This collective beast is cultivated outright today, and the “elite” political and corporate interests reaping the immediate benefits not only encourage these qualities but live them. It began with the careful management of consumption in the minds of children, the first to absorb the effects of the powerful new tools of that part-personality called intellect: science, technology, and mass media which took control of our culture in the fifties: the “candied pap of television”, as Philip Wylie phrased it.

Today, we sacrifice our children to a new brazen god who is more opposed to consciousness than any idol history has yet borne in the human mind. You may not live to see the extent of the destruction — but your child will.

Where are the living examples psychology fancied it would provide for the growth of human consciousness? Though it’s a roundabout way which is often opposed to the under-philosophy of today’s technical facade, it is possible to re-connect with the values that reflect our children’s future instead of unthinkingly devouring it in the frenzied consumption which once was Moloch’s, today transfigured by the irony of time.

4 Comments

Filed under Psychology

Gnosis, Diagnosis, and Prognosis

Psychogenic disturbances, quite unlike organic diseases, are atypical and individual. With growing experience one even finds oneself at a loss in making a diagnosis. The neuroses, for example, vary so much from individual to individual that it hardly means anything when we diagnose…“ Jung —  The Practice of Psychotherapy.

Jung’s inner experiences enabled him to recognize the need for broad concepts which could include ideas about what we don’t know of the psyche. His concept of the unconscious was open-ended enough to leave room for the mysteries and not shut them out with preconceptions.

Though his approach was intuitive, his method was empirical. The breadth of his concepts allowed him the flexibility to see connections between assumptions and facts, certainties and mysteries. The medical field knows that symptoms are natural attempts at healing, yet many professionals still treat psychic symptoms as if they were organic:

“It is generally assumed in medical circles that the examination of the patient should lead to the diagnosis of his illness, so far as this is possible at all, and that with the establishment of the diagnosis an important decision has been arrived at in regards to prognosis and therapy. Psychotherapy forms a startling exception to this rule: the diagnosis is a highly irrelevant affair since, apart from affixing a more or less lucky label to a neurotic condition, nothing is gained by it, least of all as regards prognosis and therapy.”

The psyche speaks a symbolic language which tends forward, and its hidden aims and purposes are often misinterpreted, if they’re even considered. Causal, statistically-oriented medical psychologies dismiss them as too fantastic and subjective to be of value; and that’s a problem: its language generally appears in intimate personal images which naturally reflect individual circumstances. The personal aspects, however, are only the surface of a deeper level which forms the historical background of an impersonal psychic context.

Regardless of accidental or unique circumstances, we will respond to them in distinctly human ways. Instinctual functions give shape and form to the personal images, and the disparity between the forms and the direction and content given them by the conscious attitude decides the conflict: if consciousness is tending in a direction which deviates from its natural functioning, then the unconscious creates negative consequences. Jung demonstrated this process empirically.

It’s an illusion that psychological diagnosis can be objective in the medical sense, as it presupposes a knowledge of the individual it can’t possibly have at the outset. Psychiatry in particular still operates under the tangled assumption that psychic problems can be successfully treated through drug therapies which alter brain chemistry:

“Nor should we gloss over the fact that the classifications of the neuroses is very unsatisfactory, and that for this reason alone a specific diagnosis seldom means anything real. In general, it is enough to diagnose a “psychoneurosis” as distinct from some organic disturbance — the word means no more than that… The Greco-Latin compounds needed for this still seem to have a not inconsiderable market value and are occasionally indispensable for that reason.”

If they were only occasionally indispensable in 1945, today this exclusive dialect of disease is the oil in the engine of a profession so closely bound to it that conscious norms (and “market value”) are their most basic criteria; though, as Jung stated, because of the relativity of individual values, Normal is more a social concept than a psychological one.

The collective orientation not only smuggles ethical value judgments into “sick” and “diseased” vs. “normal”, it believes this unconscious “morality” to be objective. But, it’s the knowledge of symbols and the work of reflection that circumscribe the natural values the psyche attempts to reveal through its symbolic language. The focus on scientific objectivity, if it sees it at all, sees the subjective factor as irrelevant, though it not only conditions our thinking as absolutely as any so-called objective factor, it is itself an “objective” factor in the psychological sense.

Jung has also suggested that a “neurosis” contains the seeds of a profound urge to individual consciousness beneath collective values. The conflict becomes an unconscious attempt to drive one inward to reflect on an inner nature which has been neglected or misunderstood. The ethical implication is that “neurotic” behavior is unacceptable to a prescribed norm and perceived as “bad” in keeping with our unconscious interpretations of life (and nature, too!) in terms of right and wrong.

Jung showed “neuroses” to be objective responses to psychic conditions beyond the moralistic valuations of consciousness: subject to an unconscious reality. Who is more or less driven to seek this greater reality consciously is one of nature’s great mysteries. The profound mystery of our current “neurotic” conflicts are signals that nature is calling us to pay attention to her. 

Accordingly, they represent functions which have been deprived of their natural expressions and seek their aims “in a wrong form” — misinterpreted because the symbolic language of the unconscious is not understood. To understand a “neurosis” is to break its form apart by reflecting on the symbolic ideas it contains and relate them to the associations the unconscious further provides to elaborate its aims — an intensely personal task.

Though the conflict is acted out concretely, symbolic behaviors describe natural functions that have a far different meaning than appears on the surface. At the deeper levels, it’s usually a religious or philosophical one, because that’s the historical form in which the unconscious expresses its urge to consciousness. How many psychologies would themselves qualify as neurotic if viewed from this natural perspective? How does a culture measure it’s own sanity by its own artificial criteria?

Continue reading for an example of the symbolic process of re-connecting to the psychic depth below the collective values which describe our current cultural neurosis.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Individuation, Psychology, Self-development

Commercialization and the New Mass Man

“In the course of Western development, the essentially positive process of emancipating the ego… from the tyranny of the unconscious has become negative. It has gone far beyond the division of conscious and unconscious… and has brought about a schism between them; and, just as differentiation and specialization have degenerated into overspecialization, so this development has gone beyond the formation of individual personality and given rise to an atomized individualism.” — Erich Neumann, 1954

So wrote Neumann in, The Origins and History of Consciousness. In Appendix II, Mass Man And The Phenomena of Recollectivization, he elaborated:

“Whereas on the one hand we see ever larger groups of overindividualized persons, there are on the other hand ever larger masses of humanity who have detached themselves from the original situation of the primary group… Both these developments tend to lower the significance of the group as a unit of persons consciously or unconsciously bound together, and to exalt the mass as a conglomeration of unrelated individuals.”

In a previous post, I discussed The Hidden Persuaders (1960), in which Vance Packard detailed the commercialization of psychology for the exploitation of consumers in the interests of business and industry. This rude use of the lowest levels of self-knowledge has only deepened the schism he and Neumann saw taking hold of contemporary culture many decades ago. The opportunistic cultivation of our recent identification with science and the material world is both cause and effect of deeper processes which only magnify our fixation on things. Neumann:

“… while the clan, tribe, or village is as a rule a homogenous group descended from a common origin, the city, office, or factory, is a mass unit. The growth of these mass units at the cost of the group unit only intensifies the process of alienation from the unconscious. All emotional participations are broken down and… exist only in a narrowly restricted personal sphere.”

The “overindividualized person” whose emotional relations are weakened is carefully conditioned to identify feelings with material substitutes, abetting a process as symbolic as it is destructive. It’s a big a payday for mainstream psychology, though, just as it is for the business interests it has come to serve. The more alienated we are, the more we feel the unconscious pressures of emotions designed to orient us to an inner reality we can never grasp without bringing them into consciousness.

The unconscious naturally attempts to direct us inwardly (where the problems are centered), and this finds us increasingly obsessed with ourselves; though, with no understanding of its deeper purposes, the self-urge remains stuck in the narrowly personalistic forms described by Neumann and re-appears as an egotistical self-interest.

When the anxieties compensating our self-neglect are misunderstood, we look to the experts. But, few psychologies today speak to why, or as Jung said, “for what purposes” we feel troubled. No less than anyone else caught in the collective spirit of our times are psychologists immune from their effects.

But, don’t tell me they don’t know the problems are emotional; the facade of knowledge needed to compete for consumers precludes them from looking outside the medical paradigm and into the dark, uncertain mirror of psychic images. Though they reflect our deepest natures, symbols don’t make sense to the rational intellect of today.

This literal re-visioning of our world-view by science and technology reinforces the mass emotional manipulation which began in Neumann’s and Packard’s time, and our subjective realities are more and more subverted by media to maintain the unconsciousness which supports commercial interest-groups. But, artificial substitutes offer only illusory satisfaction. Neumann:

“As has long been observed, in the place of a group… there now appears a mass unit like the State, a purely nominal structure which, in the manner of a concept, comprises a variety of different things, but does not represent an idea that springs as a central image from a homogenous group. Romantic attempts to revalue or to reverse this development necessarily result in regressions, because they take no account of its forward tendency and misunderstand its connection with the historically positive evolution of… consciousness…

“In our culture there has been a steady… undermining of the psychological foundations of the group which expresses itself in mass-mindedness, in the atomization and conscious internationalization of the individual. One result of this expansion of consciousness is that, regardless of conflicting national ideologies, every modern consciousness is confronted with that of other nations and races and with other cultures, other economic patterns, religions, and systems of value… the original group psychology… becomes relativized and profoundly disturbed…

“The global revolution which has seized upon modern man and in whose storm center we find ourselves today has, with its transvaluation of all values, led to a loss of orientation in the part and in the whole, and daily we have new and painful experience of its repercussions in the political life of the collective, as well as in the psychological life of the individual.”

This was 1954, and the first generation conditioned by mass commercial media has spawned a new one so immersed in its technology today that it can’t think outside it. This is the new norm to which mainstream psychology would adjust us.

Jung and Neumann have provided the conceptual foundation to connect with nature’s symbolic language. Much intellectual information has been supplied, and yet examples of the poetic state of mind which would allow us to experience the emotions in it are few.

4 Comments

Filed under Psychology

Of Pagan Gods, Divine Egos, and the Schism of Commercialism

Can you believe it? Black Friday is just around the corner, Christmas jingles are already flooding the airways, and the patriotic pandering to support the ever-flagging economy of the top one percent is gearing up for another festive season (i.e., high sales figures but disappointing profit-margins) to honor our material fixations in the cellophane guise of commercial-spiritual devotions.

Lest we forget the humbler and more hallowed origins of the season amid the frenetic frenzy of invented need-gratification, here are some little-known facts about the etymology of these treasured traditions:

Did you know?

That our traditional Thanksgiving dinner actually dates back to Julius Caesar? Shakespeare has immortalized the proletarian plea of Wimpy to Brutus, one of the powerful and wealthy ruler’s privileged inner circle: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Some historians suggest that this was also the basis of the modern pay-by-installment system whereby one signs one’s entire life over to the one percent for the privilege of sharing (maintaining) its bounty and to offer its reward for good consumership: permanent Gold-Card Member of the Ninety-Nine Percent Club.

Though hamburgers were then a symbol of wealth and prosperity enjoyed only by members of the Roman senate on special occasions, they became plentiful enough that rotting surfeits followed the next century of Cesarean philanthropy to a vulnerable, war-torn Europe (Pax Romana), and annual celebrations were held to give thanks to those who shared their wealth and resources as welcome return for the wise but ultimately unsustainable and top-heavy guidance of an arrogant and self-serving ruling elite.

Did You Know?

That following an epicurean gala of “all the hamburgers you care to eat”, Roman senators “vegged out” on specially reserved stone couches in great stadiums (the prototype of today’s luxury “sky boxes”) to watch the Lions and Christians amid the dull, half-dozing revelry of inflated stomachs, mead-guzzling, and rude, noisome bodily emissions? The Lions still symbolize the old tradition, though somewhat less competitively today, and lite beer now eases the dispepsia of over-ingestion.

According to primary source documents, as a result of crude meat preservation, bacteria-laden overages, and the unrestrained excesses of the senators: “There were not a bare spote of grounde in the propinquity of the couches the size of a denarius wherein the Senators had not expunged some foule and variouse forme of excretium.”

Did you know?

That the tradition later re-emerged in the New World in more civilized form as Christianity gained momentum and spread its new gospel of love to a primitive, animal-like heathenry? Annual banquets were re-established — but this time, in accordance with the selfless creed dedicated to the service of humanity, the copious bounties of a devoted religious life were shared freely with the under-privileged in joyful anticipation of converting them and/or exterminating them and displacing them of their natural dignity along with whatever else the emissaries might deem proper return for the divine sacrifice of having to depend on savages in the name of God.

Did you know?

That our modern Christmas began as a pagan ritual marking the winter solstice? The shortest day and the longest night of the year translated to the ancient mind as a symbol of bitter hardship and deep depression, and this primitive heritage underlies the uncommonly high suicide rates which characterize the holiday season (compensation for the fantastic history of a divine ego which is yet subject to the laws of nature).

Intense outbursts of consumerism have replaced orgiastic sexual excesses, and boozy office parties and the suggestive lure of kisses under the mistletoe stand today only as fading silhouettes of the naked debauchery of our ancestors and convince us that the lowest forms of sensual greed, sexual or otherwise, have been magically transformed into lofty intellectual pursuits through repression and the pretense of belief.

Did you know?

That the jolly and venerable old St. Nick our children dream so wistfully of on Christmas Eve actually evolved from the ancient Norse god, Nikolai of the Twelve Engorgements? The terrible gifts he proffered were enslavement, abuse, and exploitation in return for the barest physical sustenance. He presided over the anonymous fates of humanity’s forgotten children whose self-serving mommies’ and daddies’ protective nurturing instincts had been overcome by the blind pursuit of immediate personal gain. Fortunately, they only ever comprised about one percent of the population.

His tragic, innocent victims were later euphemized as cute helper “dwarfs” by a wise ruling elite determined to improve humanity’s condition whatever the cost to itself; though a small handful of backward-oriented, bitter, and disgruntled naysayers of contemporary cultural enlightenment propose that unconscious aspects of the original image have morphed into a dangerous modern form of “managed mass deception” for the purposes of maintaining the run-away avarice of a wealthy, dissociated, and unregulated one percent.

Did You Know?

That no poor, pitiful, and unwitting beast of lower intelligence, human or animal (not even the adorable reindeer with its big brown expressive, almost human eyes), is off limits to the genetic inclination for usury and exploitation beneath the carefully staged benign, even pleasant, subliminally-induced commercial images of corporate media-interests which trigger the Pavlov-like response of sensual self-indulgence we’ve been conditioned to exhibit like automatons at the unconscious suggestion of the most transparent, pre-packaged advertisements?

Those familiar with Jung’s typology may note an introverted psychology in conflict with today’s extraverted culture. Continue reading for a serious look at how these tensions may lead beyond the projections and into a confrontation with the collective unconscious at mid-life.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Humor

The Science of Psychology: When Subject is Object

One misconception of mainstream psychology seems inescapable: beneath the studies and statistics, for anything to be known there must be a perceiving subject. In the history of ideas, subject and object form a basic pair of philosophical opposites; the confusion between them is only magnified when the subject is an object of science.

Jung’s in-depth historical studies penetrated to the core of this problem, though his comparative method remains nearly as obscure today as it was a century ago. An understanding of it begins with the facts of perception and their unconscious projection.

As he showed in Psychological Types, the argument has always turned around the projection of more or less extraverted and introverted viewpoints. These two ways of seeing the world determine how we experience it. To get a clearer picture of their effects on psychology, Jung’s general description of how we perceive is important:

The introvert is “… oriented by the factor in perception and cognition which responds to the sense stimulus in accordance with the individual’s subjective disposition. For example, two people see the same object, but they never see it in such a way that the images they receive are absolutely identical. Quite apart from the variable acuteness of the sense organs and the personal equation, there often exists a radical difference, both in kind and degree, in the psychic assimilation of the perceptual image.”

Though the extravert’s accent is on a concrete world of objects, due to the subjective nature of perception, Jung’s description applies to both viewpoints:

“The difference in the case of a single apperception may, of course, be very delicate, but in the total psychic economy it makes itself felt in the highest degree, particularly in the effect it has on the ego.”

The scientific method began as the extraverted study of objects. Projections flowed only in one direction; repetition, verification, and prediction reduced the subjective effects of individual viewpoints to the extent that certain physical processes could be considered objective. Even so, Jung cautioned:

“We must not forget — although the extravert is too prone to do so — that perception and cognition are not purely objective, but are also subjectively conditioned. The world exists not merely in itself, but also as it appears to me. Indeed, at bottom, we have absolutely no criterion that would help us to form a judgment of a world which was unassimilable by the subject.” Perception means assimilation which mean judgment which means subjective. 

Jung explained that because of this subjective factor, “absolute cognition” is impossible. We are only as objective as our senses allow. Objectivity is relative not only to the limitations of the senses (even when artificially magnified) but to personal judgments about what we perceive and for what purposes. Beyond these unconscious pre-conditions, the mere accrual of information is “the effect it has on the ego.”

This is “… an attitude of intellectual arrogance accompanied by crudeness of feeling, a violation of life as stupid as it is presumptuous. By overvaluing our capacity for objective cognition we repress the importance of the subjective factor, which simply means a denial of the subject. But what is the subject? The subject is man himself — we are the subject. Only a sick mind could forget that cognition must have a subject, and that there is no knowledge whatever and therefore no world at all unless “I know” has been said, though with this statement one has already expressed the subjective limitation of all knowledge.

“This applies to all psychic functions: they have a subject which is just as indispensable as the object. It is characteristic of our present extraverted sense of values that the word “subjective” usually sounds like a reproof… brandished like a weapon over the head of anyone who is not boundlessly convinced of the absolute superiority of the object.” The freight train of objective science and its ego-effects have steam-rolled psychology into a glaring contradiction:

“By the subjective factor I understand the psychological action or reaction which merges with the effect produced by the object and so gives rise to a new psychic datum.” As surely as we identify images with things, they are are at once personal, collective, subjective, and objective. Here’s the stick dangling the apple in front of a scientific psychology:

“Insofar as the subjective factor has, from the earliest times and among all peoples, remained in large measure constant, elementary perceptions and cognitions being almost universally the same, it is a reality that is just as firmly established as the external object. If this were not so, any sort of permanent and unchanging reality would be simply inconceivable, and any understanding of the past would be impossible. In this sense, therefore, the subjective factor is as ineluctable a datum as the extent of the sea and the radius of the earth.”

A fact is a fact is a fact, right? Not until we have a wider conception of how relative they are to the medium perceiving them. Grandiose notions of a “theory of everything” will sooner or later stumble onto these limitations:

“By the same token, the subjective factor has all the value of a co-determinant of the world we live in, a factor that on no account can be left out of our calculations. It is another universal law, and whoever bases himself on it has a foundation as secure, as permanent, and as valid as the man who relies on the object. But just as the object and objective data do not remain permanently the same, being perishable and subject to chance, so too the subjective factor is subject to variation and individual hazards. For this reason its value is also merely relative.”

For an example of how Jung’s comparative method may be applied to find subjective meaning beyond the limitations of intellect, read more.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

The Hidden Language of Symbols

Jung’s historical studies are a sturdy, empirical foundation for uncovering the hidden meaning in dreams and fantasies. His comparative method produces real results and provides essential tools for interpreting the strange picture-language of unconscious functioning.

I remember my confusion when I first applied myself to his concepts. I could understand every word in sentences I couldn’t yet comprehend. For my causal thinking, even the notion of symbols baffled me. Many conceive them as signs or metaphors, but Jung discovered that symbols and the associations they give rise to are images concealing unconscious ideas.

Often, however, they’re embedded in an historical context which isn’t accessible by association. As Jung showed, the collective unconscious contains images of instinctual processes which are only partially translatable to consciousness. Its depth, like nature, is impersonal and inexhaustibly creative, and it works unceasingly to inform us of where we are.

As an example, I’d like to relate how I became aware of this symbolic language. In the course of studying Jung at mid-life, I was compelled to write a song, a parody of today’s culture. After going over it for months, it dawned on me that it had also created another picture beyond my intent.

Consciously, it was about our evolution; the fascination with technology, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, growing obesity, and artificial viewpoints. I wanted to paint a satirical picture of future possibilities and like all psychic products, it can be read symbolically. Hidden in the song was an unconscious description of what was happening in me.

The end of the first stanza reads: “When all of nature’s circumstances quietly concur/Consider all the prospects which this process can incur.” Then the chorus: “My genes it seems got carried away with me!/ Help! I’m evolving into something I can’t see!/Is it fate or choice or probability/That’s turned me into what I seem to be?”

The second stanza goes: “My eyes are getting bigger from all the things I watch/From TV’s to calories to clocks./My body hair has yielded to my shirts and pants and socks/And all of these anxieties are thinning out my locks./My pelvic girdle’s widening, my girth is growing round/From the gravitational pull of sitting down./My legs are short and stunted, the circulation’s poor/As they dangle from the chair’s edge and never touch the floor.”

The third stanza: “My mouth’s become a cavern of enormous shape and size/From all the pull and pressure it withstands./My functions of ingestion are so greatly mechanized/That prudence must be practiced in not swallowing my hands./My arms are long and wiry from reaching out to grasp;/Their joints are more elastic I can vouch/From the constant craning motions for all the things I ask/To gratify my cravings without getting off the couch.”

The last stanza begins: “Well, nature’s got the best of me, I readily admit./Like some modern Humpty Dumpty, here I sit…” The conclusion describes a humanity which is consuming the world that sustains it. At the time, I had no notion that it also referred to the deeper process consuming me. Unaware of it, I projected it onto society, the body, even genes.

As I considered earlier dreams, I began to relate associations. I’d dreamed of a man pointing at me penetratingly, “It’s time for you to have a baby!” I thought I was crazy, until I read an alchemical parable of a king “who had a baby in his brain.” Psychologically, pregnancy and birth symbolize new psychic contents: my widening pelvic girdle, my growing girth, and the gravitational pull of the unconscious.

I thought of how the song depicted my legs, my emotional foundations: short and stunted, unable to reach the floor: the depth of an unconscious reality. As I compared and collated the ideas, they began to form a broader image.

The third stanza found me ravenous, consuming everything within reach, my arms exaggerated tools for grasping hands to feed the enormous cavern my mouth had become. Around that time, a friend told me: “I dreamed you were stuffing food into your mouth feverishly, eating everything in sight! It was crazy!”

Erich Neumann wrote that eating in dreams is an analogy for the digestion of unconscious contents. My friend’s unconscious had taken note of what was happening in me and described it in his dream.

The idea of self-consumption is expressed; the mouth as a cavern, an entrance to the dark internal depths, Jonah and the whale, the ancient idea of self-fertilization, the alchemical serpent with its tail in its mouth to form a circle: all symbols of nature’s transitional cycles. The core of these ancient ideas evolved into the ritual of Communion: the eating of Christ’s body and the drinking of his blood as the symbolic taking in of the spirit.

Another dream found me in the kitchen of a restaurant amid the rush of workers busily preparing meals. At the entrance, a man was was taking reservations. He looked at me uncannily, “You need to finish your art project!” He tossed me an egg which fell out of my hands and broke on the floor. There was nothing in it.

It was the Humpty-Dumpty of the last stanza, the egg of potential which, filled with personal experience and nurtured with devotion, brings the spirit to birth. “And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again.”: a reference to the individual nature of coming to terms with the unconscious.

These processes are embedded in the history of symbols, and only when we understand their impersonal context can we connect with the personal realities they express.

Jung and Neumann meticulously described how symbols reveal the history of our functioning. Psychological knowledge and reflection can bring these realities into consciousness. The wider our exposure to ideas, the greater our ability to understand what’s working in us.

For an example of mid-life development and the symbolic elaboration of ideas using Jung’s comparative method, read more.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology