“What we see and what we can’t see are determined by the concepts which shape our perceptions. A different conceptual view is required to grasp the effects of the psychic reality we can’t see: a symbolic one.” A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.
This review of the development from sensual, concrete perception to abstract thought is an attempt to clarify the need for discrimination between subject and object. From Jung’s Psychological Types, the intent is to get a sense of the unconscious projections beneath today’s focus on objects and objectivity from the subjective standpoint.
Jung here discusses the opposition between the extraverted and introverted views which naturally echo through the history of philosophy up to the present. The focus on objects was described as the principle of inherence which posited only the reality of the thing in itself. Nothing could be predicated of it that wasn’t objectively valid or perceived by the senses. It stood in opposition to the ‘generic concept’, a product of the value of ideas over things, known as predication. Jung described the psychological process of moving from concrete to abstract:
“When, for instance, we speak of “warm” and “cold”, we speak of warm and cold things to which “warm” and “cold” belong as attributes, predications or assertions. The assertion refers to something perceived and actually existing, namely to a warm or cold body. From a plurality of similar cases we abstract the concepts of “warmth” and “coldness,” which again we immediately connect in our thoughts to something concrete, thing-like. Thus “warmth” and “coldness” are thing-like for us because of the reverberation of sense-perception in the abstraction. It is extremely difficult… to strip the abstraction of its “thingness,” for there naturally clings to every abstraction the thing it is abstracted from. In this sense the thingness of the predicate is actually an a priori.“
The variability of physical acuity and individual type aside, the subjective nature of perception is so relative that it’s not hard to imagine two people arguing about what is cold and what is warm according to personal experience and the degree to which each is accustomed to either.
“If we now pass to the next higher generic concept, “temperature,” we still have no difficulty in perceiving its thingness, which, though it has lost its definiteness for the senses, nevertheless retains the quality of representability that adheres to every sense-perception. At this point the conflict arises about the “nature” of energy: whether energy is purely conceptual and abstract, or whether it is something “real.” The learned nominalist of our day is quite convinced that energy is nothing but a name, a mere counter in our mental calculus; but in spite of this, in our everyday speech we treat energy as though it were thing-like, thus sowing in our heads the greatest confusion from the standpoint of the theory of knowledge.”
Though Jung’s studies lifted the subjective veil of philosophy and epistemology onto an empirical plane, it’s little noted by the sciences a century since. This can only be the result of the irrational basis of psychic processes and the rational mind’s refusal to acknowledge the concepts which would allow it to perceive its symbolic language. The denial of values underlying the commercial, ideological and political exploitation of ‘objective’ science today begs the questions of how and why we think about what we think about.
“The thing-likeness of the purely conceptual, which creeps so naturally into the process of abstraction and brings about the “reality” of the predicate or the abstract idea, is no artificial product, no arbitrary hypostatizing of a concept, but a necessity. It is not that the abstract idea is arbitrarily hypostatized and transplanted into a transcendental world of equally artificial origin; the actual historical process is quite the reverse.”
As Jung noted, this concrete quality of the senses remains an essential aspect of the unconscious psyche’s mode of perception. It was only by empirical study that he unmasked the symbolic elements beneath its primitive veneer and how they conform to the forward movement of psychic energy in the most complex ways imaginable.
“Among primitives, for instance, the imago, the psychic reverberation of the sense-perception, is so strong and so sensuously coloured that when it is reproduced as a spontaneous memory-image it sometimes even has the quality of an hallucination. Thus when the memory-image of his dead mother suddenly reappears to a primitive, it is as if it were her ghost that he sees and hears. We only “think” of the dead, but the primitive actually perceives them because of the extraordinary sensuousness of his mental images.”
Our very natures are couched in this sensuality — one of the reasons we can’t distinguish the reality of dreams from waking life when we experience them. It’s a different reality than the conscious one, and it governs all human activities just as surely as it always has. The difference now is that the most advanced object-ivity is yet under the sway of an ego that remains as primitive as the emotional reality it refuses to examine. Though it everywhere confronts us, it’s seen only in others.
Multiply those projections seven billion times, and the value of reflection (and its individual nature) increases exponentially. The conceptual direction of thought is now being urged to take another step forward to a different kind of reality; not in the world of external objects but its own subjectivity. It’s not the god of reason, religion or ideology — but the spirit of Nature and our deep-seated fear of an objective psychic reality that opposes everything we believe about ourselves that is false.