Psyche, Science, and Subjectivity

Each individual sees the world a little differently according to… 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… advance from collective thinking to individual differentiation accentuates this subjective influence. The tendency toward specialization and the proliferation of “isms” attests this movement.” — A Mid-life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

The spirit of the times shapes our assumptions early and generally determines what we see as real and unreal.  Just as thought has developed over centuries, we spend our lives in a fog of belief without really being able to distinguish personal realities from the collective illusions we inherit. Honest people will spend their entire lives learning about themselves.

One assumption of the current scientific belief-system is the idea that we can observe psychic life objectively. Group-identification offers a fixed orientation, a sense of certainty; yet however desirable these may be, they remain wishful compensations for a dream-like interior world of images which is anything but fixed. It’s a shadowy, chaotic realm of uncertainty so foreign in appearance and structure to consciousness, it’s often repressed — even considered meaningless.

But, there are established principles which afford a rough outline of the interior world. I’m convinced that one of the reasons Jung’s work is not more widely accepted is that his concepts are too opposed to our traditional views of how consciousness works. His discoveries are as disturbing and startling as Galileo’s findings were to the Church.

One of the empirical descriptions Jung established was of a purposive psychic system designed to orient us to the unknown, the unpredictable – a world of nature affecting us as much from within as without. Rationalism in this sense can be seen as a defense against the irrational — yet still projected onto an objective nature much as it was centuries ago.

Like anything psychic, the subjective factor has a dual nature. As relative as it may be, without it we’re not much more than herd animals led this way and that, not by governments and media so much as the unconscious instinctual forces working through them. Below consciousness, an individual nature is set against a collective inner world of images which is superimposed on a concrete reality.

This deeper conflict is governed by an instinctual principle which contains the opposites within itself. It shows all the qualities of the will and intention of consciousness, though it works below awareness. Conceived as spirit, it reflects ideas which gravitate around the psyche’s demands on consciousness: where concrete reality meets a symbolic one. It’s impossible to make sense of its truth from the perspective of things and bodies and their perceived effects on one another.

Our reductive thinking is balanced by psychic processes which aim forward. They channel the opposites into a uniform flow, a natural gradient. Viewed the other way around, the conscious capacity for focus compensates the blind will of instinctual nature and allows the sun of individual choice and creativity to peek through its unconscious cloud. It also illustrates the struggle with an objective will which is presupposed in any natural process of development.

Our history is the result of mental functions shaped by a psychic reality which corresponds to an objective outer one, though mirrored in symbolic form and often opposed to the conscious way of thinking. Changes such as the last century has seen reflect new stages of awareness. Though acted out on a physical stage, we evolve according to psychic patterns. On the surface, history is great personalities, wars, and the founding of civilized institutions; but underneath, it’s the gradual coming to awareness of the objective will of nature conceived in all living things.

These are at least partial truths which factor into all activity, and where we’re not conscious of them is where our vulnerabilities are hidden. Our self-images are double-sided, and exaggerated tendencies point to undeveloped functions. In large things and small, an inflated consciousness sees only itself as the vehicle of change, and only then in its positive aspects. Negative ones are always caused by others — yet we, too, are those others.

Though we’re fascinated by our own creative thought and how we’ve changed the world for our biological comfort and convenience, we’re little more aware of our psychological functioning — why we do what we do — than our ancient Greek counterparts. In some ways, we’re surely less aware. The dark wisdom of a mythic psyche lies unseen behind the modern conscious reality, dimmed by the glare of science and knowledge.

But for each perceived gain, a Pandora’s box of negative consequences ensue. Do we will our destructive tendencies? Of course not, yet an objective nature works in us to compensate our conscious choices. Destructive consequences are signals of imbalance, misconception, and unrealistic thinking. Considered solely from the causal viewpoint, each attempt at a solution only brings another set of dangerous consequences with it.

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