A Mid-life Perspective: Preface — Part II

“Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.” — Carl Jung

“Ego and Intellect

The identification of ego with intellect contributes to this problematic conception of nature. It long slumbered in Christian theology as identification with an otherworldly God and a disdain for natural life: an image of self-rejection – one of the reasons guilt weighs so heavily in traditional religious ideas. Both are compounded through this identity, the idea of a Deity now yielding to science as it dissolves the metaphysical projections. For all our rational knowledge, we remain driven by the repressed “natural man” who serves the sensual world of material desire – just as he did many thousands of years ago. He personifies the unconscious need for a wider psychological perspective than just an intellectual one – and the internal guilt we never came to terms with because we never understood the reasons for it.

The uneven advance of self-knowledge finds no adequate ideas that would relate us to the ancient symbols and their functions, their irrational truths repressed for lack of understanding. They sink back into the unconscious where they become hostile adversaries. Due to changes in consciousness, they resurface in different guise today, though we remain possessed by their “suprapersonal” powers – paradoxically more distant now than ever. As our relation to ourselves is no longer expressed in the old images, the humbling effects of a higher authority dwindle into vague personal beliefs with no real emotional experience to support them. The result is a “puffing up of the ego-sphere” and the “brutish egotism” to which Neumann referred: an exaggerated urge to individuality which has lost its relation to itself and the world.

From the scientific perspective, religious images are only fantasies. For the less developed intellect of the past, they served to influence thought’s exclusive tendencies. The objective trend today requires a new interpretation of the values they represent. The conflicts of the soul, the emotional tensions determining our deepest relations in the context of a greater whole, are projected onto fractional interests and ideologies with ever more threatening consequences.

Only the hard work of introspection can free the individual from the self-flattering and contradictory influences of ego. The recognition of a higher inner authority beyond will and intellect is a philosophical and religious process meant to bind us to humanity and our natural environment. For science to serve those greater purposes, its aims must be subject to a broader conception of psychic life.

Causality and Purpose

The causal thinking which orients our perception is opposed to the heavy, symbolic language of the unconscious. The one leads backward in time to a cause that produces effects, and the other leads forward to a purpose or goal without conceiving a cause. As a concept, the latter allows the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions evoked by images and symbols to shape themselves; to relate their associations to the pursuit of aims beyond conscious preconception.

Jung saw the idea of time as a primitive concept of energy, a gradient of potential, in that it flows forward in an irreversible way. This is an approximate analogy for his model of psychic energy and the reason time is capitalized in the text when referred to by the figures representing the unconscious. We can reverse it in our minds as in casual thought, but we should be aware that we are projecting subjective ideas onto the objective behavior of processes outside consciousness.

Each individual sees the world a little differently according to his/her personal interpretations: Jung’s “subjective factor”. He stressed that it is “one of the necessary conditions under which all thinking takes place.” We may agree on certain general ways of thinking, but this in no way relieves them of their subjective quality. It is conscious thought which subjectivizes the ideas we associate. The historical advance from collective thinking to individual differentiation accentuates this subjective influence. The tendency toward specialization and the proliferation of “isms” attests this movement. Though still veiled by symbolic mythical influences, the undeveloped seeds of individuality are gradually emerging through the dense fog of collective history – or at least attempting to.

The opposition between causal thought and the forward movement of the unconscious, along with the projection of subjective viewpoints, create contradictions in our thinking. When looking inward, one of the most perplexing ones is the backward flow of dream-images as they draw on past experience. This paradox reflects the double meaning inherent in unconscious imagery, just as it is the basis of the causal view. The opposites are still fused together in the unconscious; it is the discriminating effect of consciousness that splits the original image and reveals only the partial aspect of its focus. Only the two forms of perceiving combined can give us a wider sense of who we are beneath our one-sided presumptions.

Past, present, and future are a single dynamic process in the unconscious. One of the functions of dreams is to express this creative flow through analogies with present circumstances. Since analogies describe how different sets of experiences conform, dreams often express immediate concerns through memory-images. They reveal the conformities of past and present events, our reactions to them, and the anticipations of tendencies which shape our futures. Jung stated: “Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.”

Next post: Religious Images, Alchemy.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to A Mid-life Perspective: Preface — Part II

  1. Perhaps it is time to reconsider and re-evaluate what we mean by the term “intelligence”. Consider the following:

    “It is a profound historical irony of the behavioural sciences that the Nobel Prize was awarded for studies of cognitive characteristics (rational thinking skills) that are entirely missing from the most well-known mental assessment device in the behavioral sciences – the intelligence test. Intelligence tests measure important things, but not these – they do not assess the extent of rational thought. This might not be such an omission if it were the case that intelligence was an exceptionally strong predictor of rational thinking. However, research has found that it is a moderate predictor at best and that some rational thinking skills can be quite dissociated from intelligence.”

    Read the complete(four page) article at: http://www.keithstanovich.com/Site/Research_on_Reasoning_files/Stanovich_ThePsychologist.pdf

    • Intelligence was an “exceptionally strong predictor” of the atomic age, too — and the technological consumerism that finds our social behavior little changed over thousands of years. ‘Rational thinking’ must have some awareness of its opposite to understand its own rationale. That such ideas as ’emotional intelligence’ or ‘instinctual intelligence’ are not considered is evidence of how ‘rational thinking skills’ can be strong predictors of irrational behavior. That could be why we’ve never found ‘intelligent life’ in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it — it’s inherent in it.

      What are the definitions of rational/irrational also should not be left out of account. Stanovich’s article assumes the word rational to be commonly understood. Maybe it is — maybe not. Either way, it’s not just a question of semantics but of critical assumptions which depend on the precision of the terms describing the premise. Without real psychological description, the conclusion, while it may be intuitively on spot (as I think it is) may also be as vague as the premise to those for whom the term means something different:
      http://outlawpsych.com/outlawpsych/jungs-definition-of-rational-and-irrational/

      This seems to me one of the core problems of the behavioral ‘sciences’: not only do they not agree on their terms — what partial definitions there are relate only to the subjective aims of those with something to gain by them.

      • Jung is very clear on what he means by “irrational”(I apologize for the length):
        “36. Irrational: As I make use of this term it does not denote something contrary to reason, but something outside the province of reason, whose essence, therefore, is not established by reason.
        Elementary facts belong to this category, eg. that the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that the greatest density of water is found to be 4.0 centigrade. An accident is also irrational in spite of the fact that it may sustain a subsequent rational explanation. The irrational is a factor of existence which may certainly be pushed back indefinitely by an increasingly elaborate and complicated rational explanation, but in so doing the explanation finally becomes so extravagant and overdone that it passes comprehension, thus reaching the limits of rational thought long before it can ever span the whole world with the laws of reason. A completely rational explanation of an actually existing object (not one that is merely postulated) is a Utopian ideal. Only an object that has been postulated can also be completely explained on rational grounds, since it has never contained anything beyond what was postulated by rational thinking. Empirical science also postulates rationally limited objects, since its deliberate exclusion of the accidental allows no consideration of the real object as a whole ; hence empirical observation is always limited to that same portion of the object which has been selected for rational consideration. Thus, both thinking and feeling as directed functions are rational. When these functions are concerned not with a rationally determined choice of objects, or with the qualities and relations of objects, but with the incidental perceptions which the real object never lacks, they at once lose the quality of direction, and therewith something of their rational character, because they accept the accidental. They begin to be irrational. That thinking or feeling which is directed according to accidental perceptions, and is therefore irrational, is either intuitive or sensational. Both intuition and sensation are psychological functions which achieve their functional fulfilment in the absolute perception of occurrences in general. Hence, in accordance with their nature, their attitude must be set towards every possibility and what is absolutely accidental ; they must, therefore, entirely forgo rational direction. Accordingly I term them irrational functions, in contrast to thinking and feeling, which reach perfection only when in complete accord with the laws of reason.
        Although the irrational, as such, can never become the object of a science, nevertheless for a practical psychology it is of the greatest importance that the irrational factor should be correctly appraised. For practical psychology stirs up many problems that altogether elude the rational
        solution and can be settled only irrationally, i.e. they can be solved only in a way that has no correspondence with the laws of reason. An exclusive presumption or expectation that for every conflict there must also exist a possibility of rational adjustment may well prove an insurmountable obstacle to a real solution of an irrational character, (v. Rational).
        C. G. Jung, CW6, para. 774

        • WH,
          Ha! We must be on the same wave-length. The article I referenced in my link is from the very same source, though this was only implied in it:

          “Although the irrational, as such, can never become the object of a science, nevertheless for a practical psychology it is of the greatest importance that the irrational factor should be correctly appraised. For practical psychology stirs up many problems that altogether elude the rational solution and can be settled only irrationally, i.e. they can be solved only in a way that has no correspondence with the laws of reason. An exclusive presumption or expectation that for every conflict there must also exist a possibility of rational adjustment may well prove an insurmountable obstacle to a real solution of an irrational character, (v. Rational).
          C. G. Jung, CW6, para. 774.”

          Thank you for adding clarity to the post as well as the subjective problems cognitive science confronts.

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