Objective Science and Psychic Reality

“… 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.

Our notions of reality have changed considerably over the last hundred years. The current fascination with the material world would seem to have created a new image of it, and few historical events so startlingly conspired to make us re-think metaphysical views than those of the last century.

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

At that time, Jung was defining an empirical psychology that could make sense of an unconscious psychic reality. But, as conventional science immersed itself in material objectivity, the split in our natures widened:

Within three decades, the primitive emotional projections of an intellect bound to the senses formed a new image: World War II and an Iron Curtain symbolized ego’s dissociation from its psychic foundations. It was 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…  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 symbolic thinking based on empirically derived concepts that psychology can bridge the gap 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.” Rational science is a thinking activity and lacks basic feeling-values. A technology capable of mass destruction without the empathy that accompanies 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 so consistently opposes conscious ideals. Who is it that lives in these dark shadows, the “ill consequences of this overvaluation of the scientific method“? Symbolic realities aside, there are certain quantitatively measurable facts which would suggest that our alienation from ourselves only deepens with consciousness’ perceived independence. War is many things, but it’s a business, too — and business is booming.

Psychology, also, is a booming business — like the science of weaponry, medicine, or any other abstract activity which depends on ideological caprice or commercial exploitation for advancement. The science of objective data has not only done little to improve the conditions of the soul, it’s tricked us into believing that we’ve outgrown the need for its guidance. These shadow-effects are observable only through concepts which presuppose them. Without them, they work invisibly.

Attemps to subject the mysteries of unconscious psychic reality to the ideals of a dissociated culture may be good business for a few — for now; but, like an advanced technology in the fearful hands of an alienated ego, it only increases a primitive collective nature.

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

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