“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.