Tag Archives: fascination with the material world

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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The Soul as a Function of Relationship

Projection is a fundamental mechanism of the psyche, a strategy derived from the fact that what is unconscious is projected… Jung has written that “the general psychological reason for projection is always an activated unconscious that seeks expression… Projection is never made; it happens, it is simply there. In the darkness of anything external to me I find, without recognizing it as such, an interior or psychic life that is not my own.” —  The Middle Passage, James Hollis.

The nature of conscious focus requires unconscious functions to translate this dark interior life to it. Beyond the intellectual understanding of the concept, projection is so relative to individual perception that only the most intimate experience can describe its effects. Jung’s work was devoted to organizing these subjective experiences into an empirical picture; his studies of how the psyche expresses itself seem especially important today:

… since the soul, like the persona, is a function of relationship, it must consist in a certain sense of two parts — one part belonging to the individual, and the other adhering to the object of relationship, in this case the unconscious… in relation to the activity of consciousness, the contents of the unconscious lay the same claim to reality on account of their obstinate persistence as do the real things of the external world, even though this claim must appear very improbable to a mind that is “outer-directed.”

“It must not be forgotten that there have always been many people for whom the contents of the unconscious possess a greater reality than the things of the outside world. The history of human thought bears witness to both realities. A more searching investigation of the human psyche shows beyond question that there is in general an equally strong influence from both sides on the activity of consciousness… psychologically, we have a right on purely empirical grounds to treat the contents of the unconscious as just as real as the things of the outside world, even though these two realities are mutually contradictory…

The two systems comprise a complementary or compensatory relationship. The diffuse and undifferentiated nature of unconscious reality not only indirectly influences a more selective consciousness, it creates the energy for its activities. The conscious mind acts; what are its deeper purposes in relation to the unseen reality behind it? Science, however objectively it works in the external world, without psychological concepts, can only be a partial picture of its conscious intent. Jung wrote: “…to subject one reality to the other would be an altogether unjustifiable presumption.

The danger today is that consciousness has created circumstances which can’t be understood without knowledge of the unconscious purposes behind them. For that, we need empirical concepts neither religion, philosophy, nor material science can supply. We’ve reached a stage of dissociation from our natural state such that the unconscious is in open rebellion. But, the problems are always caused by others. Who are these ‘others’?

The peculiar reality of unconscious contents gives us the same right to describe them as objects as the things of the outside world. Now just as the persona, being a function of relationship, is always conditioned by the external object and is anchored as much in it as in the subject, so the soul, as a function of relationship to the inner object, is represented by that object; hence she is always distinct from the subject in one sense and is actually perceived as something different.

In the same way as a man who surrenders entirely to the outside world still has the world as an object distinct from himself, the unconscious world of images behaves as an object distinct from the subject even when a man surrenders to it completely. And just as the world of mythological images speaks indirectly, through the experience of external things, to the man who surrenders wholly to the outside world, so the real world and its demands find their way indirectly to the man who has surrendered wholly to the soul; for no man can escape both realities.”

For those who perceive the soul, Jung wrote, it’s ambivalent, even demonic “because the inner object, the suprapersonal, collective unconscious with which she is connected as the function of relationship, gleams through her. The unconscious, considered as the historical background of the human psyche, contains in concentrated form the entire succession of engrams (imprints) which from time immemorial have determined the psychic structure as it now exists. These engrams are… function-traces that typify, on average, the most frequently and intensively used functions of the human psyche.

Jung described psychic ambivalence as “borderline phenomena” afflicting those devoted to either the inner or outer world. The so-called normal individual, he wrote, “knows nothing of these cruel enigmas. They do not exist for him. It is always only a few who reach the rim of the world where its mirror image begins. For the man who always stands in the middle the soul has a human and not a dubious, daemonic character…

Yet, it is just these ‘normal’ individuals who are the disaster humanity has become for the world today. Conditions have changed dramatically in the last century. A neglected inner world, whether perceived or not, now supports an entire industry dedicated to relieving ‘normal’ individuals of the unconscious ambivalence designed to dissolve our projections. We can’t say what’s normal today. The idea is so subjective, so relative, changes in consciousness so diverse and fast-paced that what was ‘true’ for the last generation is false for the modern one. 

That “no man can escape both realities” is evident in our fascination with the material world and the unconscious response to it. We are as primitive in self-knowledge as we are sophisticated in the knowledge of objects. A sense of spirit, one of the “most frequently and intensively used functions of the human psyche” has become unconscious — only to re-emerge as dangerous ideological obsessions, compulsive consumption, and bi-polar projections so one-sided that human life can’t be described as normal but through its own projections.

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