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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.


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The ‘Disease’ of Consciousness

Jung saw neuroses as psychic conflicts that occur when consciousness strays from its unconscious nature. That purposely open-ended concept has since been twisted by the subjective aims and assumptions of modern medicine into so many stylized disorders that manuals are needed to account for them.

The tendency of science is to attack problems logically, though Jung conceived conscious life as an irrational process of coming to terms with a pre-existent psychic reality. When the subjective mind focuses on its own thought, it can get so lost in itself that an emprical picture looks like fantasy — self-search becomes self-delusion. The psyche is not the object of study today, but the data itself — the individual, a mere by-product of an impersonal science.

Energy is produced by tension or friction between two opposing poles. As are all energic processes, body/mind is an unconsciously regulated unity governed by natural law; how and where they converge is an unfathomable mystery we know little about. As consciousness is a partial complex, it sees only partial processes; Jung saw the unconscious as a natural unity which contains the opposites within itself: causality/purpose, rational/irrational, sensual/spiritual are essentially subjective interpretations of instinctual functions.

However mystical it may appear to a science based on method and causality, Jung studied unconscious effects also from a goal-oriented perspective. Their dual foundation and the relations between opposites prompted him to consider the data from both angles. He found that each was unfixed; relative to the other but also individually conditioned — a considerably more complicated picture than the standard medical view. 

His comparative approach was distinctly psychological, and the empirical facts he established can change the way we see ourselves. Once acquainted with them, there’s nothing mystical about his concepts. What was once only speculative philosophy, he arranged into an empirical outline circumscribing the relations between psychic opposites, how they function, and how we perceive them; not the causal effects of concrete objects in space.

He saw psychic functions as having specific energies. His studies showed that we identify primarily with one main one over others: thinking excludes feeling to record information; feeling represses thinking in the weighing of values. Accidental circumstances would find us paralyzed with indecision were it not for instinctual processes perceptible by means of inner images: spontaneous self-representations of unconscious reactions as supplements to the conscious view.

The identity of image and object is designed for quick response in the external world. Because of the need for immediate action, only a part of the total image is perceived at a given time. The focus necessary to respond to fluid conditions is complemented by subliminal emotions which fuse into the image of object and circumstance and are reflected back after the fact.

Memory associations, along with intuitive symbol-images, are projected into concrete experiences. Because life exists only in singular form, all experience is relative to the individual; but since social instincts are needed to co-exist with others, similarities are more apparent than differences to a collective method based on averages. Nature, however, has accentuated the reflective instinct in a self-aware animal; the unconscious directs consciousness to its instinctual needs through meaningful associations of emotionally charged ideas.

Conscious attention is attracted by the intensity of energy fluctuating between functions according to changing needs. Collective reactions are also intensely personal, and their relative nature determines perceptions which orient in two directions. 

A concrete external orientation can’t readily discern things from ideas, and the unconscious pushes its ideas across the threshold of awareness via symbol-images. With reflection, personal associations attach to them as a measure of the energy compelling attention. The deeper we explore, the more pronounced their religious and philosophical character. Despite what material science tells us, it’s an irrational function with the dual purpose of reconciling the conflicting needs of self and other.

Jung’s studies revealed the religious function to be as basic as the biological imperative. All human endeavor points to its lifting of thought toward moral reflection. These two poles of instinct are so inextricably intertwined that one without the other would result in an unsustainable condition. Without a function to mediate their relations, culture would devolve into a ruthless competition for individual superiority measured only by the collective value of objects. 

The idea of a personal soul as mediator of inner images is a natural function of wholeness and reconciliation, an inborn urge for conscious unity: a profound need for an individual animal who depends as much on himself as others for life. The idea of a single god is not just an ideal directing moral development but a natural image which compensates our split natures.

The functions designed to reconcile a dual orientation depend on conscious distinctions between the opposites to work according to nature. Obsession and devotion, compulsion and desire, healing and disease, are fluid, relative ideas; complex associations which are more emotional than intellectual. Only their symbolic content can tell us whether our assumptions are subjective diversions or natural functions.

For a poetic exploration of the symbolic relations between the opposites, visit Amazon.

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