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In 1912, Einstein introduced his theory of special relativity. One experiment he devised to test his intuition that time and space might be relative to the observer was surprisingly simple:

He set two cameras at either end of a train platform. A car was prepared so that a small explosion triggered at the mid-point of the platform, and the cameras then photographed the explosion at the instant of its detonation. The exact times were recorded at each location; a difference was found between them.

We’re familiar with the impact Einstein’s theories had on science. He proved that time and space are relative to the observer and also to motion. He revolutionized existing conceptions of energy and paved the way for modern technology.

In the same year, C.G. Jung introduced his theory of psychic energy: an analogy of Einstein’s physical discoveries. He showed that perception is relative to the individual; that our human objectivity is not what it appears to be. His ‘subjective factor‘ is still little acknowledged today even by psychology, much less science, a century since. Each in his own field showed that any depth perspective of nature is counter-intuitive.

Einstein’s later theory of general relativity turned Newton’s assumptions about gravity upside down. He proved that the gravitational effect of a body in space is proportional to its mass; that its effects are not immediate but relative to the speed of light. Jung’s studies of complexes again had remarkable similarities with the physical concepts. 

The mass, or value, of a complex of ideas determines the gravitational effects of an instinctual function. The more vital the function, the more its energy draws psychic material to it, creating a complex of emotionally charged associations. Though the function itself is common to all, its subjective value is relative to the individual, and this general principle is borne out by experience:

So much so that the idea of complexes is now used in everyday speech. One may have a ‘power complex’ or an ‘inferiority complex’ or a ‘sexual complex’. It’s part of what makes us unique; a visible form of psychic energy which is expressed in symbols or symbolic behavior.

Jung showed how images reflect natural functions; that the unconscious psyche expresses them in this symbolic picture-language. Much as one might interpret an unknown language through the comparative analysis of the associations and context of certain words and ideas, he discovered basic themes which recur in the myths and symbols of all people. These analogies reflect our common structure.

Personal values both conceal and reveal the dual nature of symbols according to individual disposition. More general perspectives are partially determined by a favored subjective function such as thinking or feeling, and also by the attitude-type. In the extraverted type, the weight of value lies in the external world. In the introvert, the accent is on the internal ‘object’. These, combined with the unique nature of consciousness, are the pre-conditions of perception. 

It’s not exactly a paradox that physical discoveries and their psychic parallels are so unevenly acknowledged. The complexities of self-observation depend on laws which are just as objective as those governing any natural process; but because the subjective mind is unique, they can only be inferred through a process of self-analysis in which the unconscious supplies the objective material for comparison. Few outside observers have the ability beyond their own projections to evaluate the effects of individual development.

Jung’s concepts were as revolutionary as Einstein’s. They’re even more vital in the wake of technological advancements. The quantum physicist is motivated by the same human fears and insecurities as in biblical times — but can he conceive a psychological equivalent of ‘E=MC²’? (Maybe: Psychic energy=concrete thought x the evolution of consciousness²?)

The rational perspective only magnifies the split between an artificial reality and an unconscious psychic one which would guide us in a natural direction. That nature’s inborn wisdom exceeds conscious knowledge is apparent to a reflective mind. But, the ego-projections behind ideological and political disputes make science and technology as dangerous as it is productive. Where is the science of the mind?

Ego-psychologies based on collective norms have failed to deliver. The tension between conscious and unconscious has now reached epic proportions. There are special reasons for this which standardized methods can’t address. That spiritual reflection might be as basic a demand as biological and social ones is beyond their purview.

Spiritual development, the extension of consciousness and not just intellect,  is opposed to the world of the senses; it’s that opposition we’re facing now. Jung conceived a model over a century ago which outlined our modern conflicts. To make any sense of them requires psychological knowledge and reflection, not just conscious belief or rational assumption. 

Jung demonstrated that the religious factor is a vital human function. Has it just disappeared, or have the symbols changed form? The old religion was ineffective to the extent that ego identified with its own compensations. Do we think we understand what that means and what it’s for any more than what E=MC² means to the inner beast that exploits the knowledge in it? 

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Science and Technology: The New Dogma of Repression

“Whether primitive or not, mankind always stands on the brink of actions it performs itself but does not control. The whole world wants peace and the whole world prepares for war…” — Carl Jung

It’s been a century since Jung introduced his theory of psychic energy. It seems little more acknowledged today than then. His psychological adaptation of the laws of physical energy appears as arbitrary to scientific thought as do religious figures or the philosophical paradoxes that occupied minds long ago.

In terms of psychic energy, however, the objective study of things presupposes a subjective fascination which is inseparable from human use and intent. The purposes and direction of a nuclear technology now charge a young psychology with guiding us out of the religious and philosophical cul-de-sac a dissociated intellect proffers in a new atomic age.

What scientists saw as Jung’s mysticism was a new philosophy of science and religion; a comparative history of consciousness with a conceptual view of psychic functioning that stretched the limits of causal thought. His intuitions of humanity’s dark side drew him beyond rational method’s surface applications; for, the “method enjoys greater intellectual recognition than its subject.”

A new dogma of objectivity replaces the old religious one; its images dissolved into a dark, fathomless universe of impersonal and unspeakably violent cosmic forces. Where did the emotional energy we invested in the projections go?

“The matter now seems turned about; the Devil’s in the house and can’t get out.” As Goethe’s Faust echoed two centuries ago, a stark new heavenly mirror stares back at us from a timeless eternity. But, it was Jung who brought a metaphysical religious philosophy down to an earthly psychic reality:  

“… the psyche is so infinitely diverse in its manifestations, so indefinite and unbounded, that the definitions of it are difficult if not impossible to interpret, whereas the definitions based on the mode of observation and on the method derived from it are — or at least should be — known quantities. Psychological research proceeds from these empirically or arbitrarily defined factors and observes the psyche in terms of their alterations. The psyche therefore appears as the disturbance of a probable mode of behavior postulated by one or the other of these methods.”

He stated that “everything depends on the method and its presuppositions and that they largely determine the results.” The method itself is “disturbed by the autonomous behavior of the psyche…” The partial nature of thought can never anticipate instinctive processes; they’re “really unconscious” and will always defy conscious description. 

Allowing the material he observed over decades to form its own picture, Jung postulated his theory of types: sixteen fundamental “realities” in which each can be considered as valid as the others. He emphasized that it was only one of many possible (or “probable”) modes of observation — and again, Goethe’s words echoed in the background: “It’s been a fact of ancient date that men make little worlds within the great.”

He stressed that in practice no classification appears in ideal or abstract form. All things psychic are protean, shifting. They disappear and reappear according to their own laws; one of the reasons psychology is, in the final analysis, more philosophical than scientific. But, such a fluid view allows a timeless psyche to express itself. To relate to this reality on its own terms is to enter a dark world of uncertainty:

“Fear and resistance are the signposts that stand beside the via regia to the unconscious, and it is obvious that what they primarily signify is a preconceived opinion of the thing they are pointing at. It is only natural that from the feeling of fear one should infer something dangerous and from the feeling of resistance something repellent. The patient does so, the public does so, and in the end the analyst does so too… this view naturally conceives the unconscious as consisting of incompatible tendencies which are repressed on account of their immorality.”

But, unconscious compensations presuppose objective functions. Hidden in the religious guilt and the philosophical reflection which would bind together two opposed realities are the images designed to supplement our preconceptions: the dark side of the mental inheritance which makes consciousness relative to a greater mystery. Thanks to an inherited morality and the threat of extinction behind the new technology, we now procreate exponentially faster than we kill each other; though the compulsions for both have not been appreciably altered by either.

The facts of unconscious compensation are a fundamental discovery that lies at the heart of human conflict: the role of consciousness, will, choice, emotion, perception, the Deity; all the ways we relate to ourselves and the world. The depth of human functioning so transcends conscious morality that no statistics, studies, or standardized methods will reveal its unconscious influences on our behavior. 

Psychologically, the incompatible tendencies which disturb our ideals are the most objective appraisals we have, just not quite yet in serviceable form. The new “objective” dogma still sees them in moralistic terms, however: disease, disorder, defect, pathological, and sick are the new good and evil of today’s self-estrangement — and the labels only stick further into the open wound of our religious history…

For an example of how Jung’s energic theory can be applied to the mid-life search for meaning, read more or visit Amazon.

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A Reason for Religion: Subjective Views in an Objective World of Illusion

After watching a program on Caligula, I found myself thinking about a quote from Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, in which he set out his theory of psychic energy. Historians have written volumes on the decline of cultures, the reasons, parallels with modern ones, etc. But, historians aren’t psychologists, and few psychologists are historians. Jung’s historical studies are what distinguished his work:

St. Augustine described the fate of Alypus in his, Confessions, in 398 A.D.: “But at Carthage the maelstrom of ill morals — and especially the passion for idle spectacles — had sucked him in, his special madness being for gladiatorial shows… As a result of what he had heard me say, he wrenched himself out of the deep pit in which he had chosen to be plunged and in the darkness of whose pleasures he had been so woefully blinded. He braced his mind and shook it till all the filth of the Games fell away from it and he went no more…”

Augustine told how Alypus went to Rome to study law, turned from the games, and detested his former passion:  “But it happened one day that he met some friends… coming from dinner: and though he flatly refused and vigorously resisted, they used friendly violence and forced him along with them to the amphitheatre on a day of these cruel and murderous Games. He protested: “Even if you drag my body to the place, can you force me to turn my mind and my eyes on the show? Though there, I shall not be there, and so I shall defeat both you and it.”

When they found their seats, “… the whole place was in a frenzy of hideous delight. He closed up the door of his eyes and forbade his mind to pay attention to things so evil. If only he could have stopped his ears too! For at a certain critical point in the fight, the vast roar of the whole audience beat upon him. His curiosity got the better of him, and thinking he would be able to treat the sight with scorn… he opened his eyes, and was stricken with a deeper wound in the soul than the man he had opened his eyes to see suffered in the body.”

He wrote that Alypus’ weakness was his self-reliance (the illusions of collective ego) when he should have trusted only in God (the unconscious urge for unity and wholeness in the symbol). “Seeing the blood he drank deep of the savagery. He did not turn away but fixed his gaze upon the sight. He drank in all the frenzy with no thought of what had happened to him, revelled in the wickedness of the contest, and was drunk with lust for blood. He was no longer the man who had come there but one of the crowd to which he had come, a fit companion for those who had brought him.”

To end the passage, Jung wrote: “One can take it as certain that man’s domestication cost him the heaviest sacrifices. An age which created the Stoic ideal must doubtless have known why and against what it was set up.” He compared the age of Nero four and a half centuries earlier with a quote from Seneca’s forty-first letter to Lucilius: “We push one another into vice. And how can a man be recalled to salvation, when he has none to restrain him, and all mankind to urge him on?”

Jung saw Christianity as a deep need for “… the founding of a community united by an idea, in the name of which they could love one another… a mediator in whose name new ways of love could be opened, became a fact, and with that human society took an immense stride forward. This was not the result of any speculative, sophisticated philosophy, but of an elementary need in the great masses of humanity vegetating in spiritual darkness… evidently driven to it by the profoundest inner necessities, for humanity does not thrive in a state of licentiousness.”

In the West, the age of sacrifice for anything much more than our biological natures is fading, though a frenzied new mass greed finds us still with just enough self-knowledge to keep us above a tide of unconscious emotion which can ignite as surely as history dictates who we are. Today, over thirty wars are being fought worldwide, and whole cultures are drawn into the frenzy of the spectacle just as in Augustine’s day.

Consciousness is changing quickly, but a deep part of the new mass individual remains stuck in an era already in decline before it developed. What happens when the ideas constituting humanity’s “immense stride forward” sink into oblivion, no longer visible through its illusions of objectivity; when the deeper image, too, is repressed by an ego which cannot of itself relent in its unconscious efforts to destroy its own hubris with its own creations?

The beast of historical regression rages openly in the Middle East; the mass mind compelled into its global implications. It’s what religious ideas were meant to counter: to develop the animal lurking beneath ego-ideals. To confront it requires an inward struggle — to keep the twenty-first century from becoming an immense stride backward.

Read more about the symbolic entanglements which would turn the confrontation with ourselves into an image of the individual beyond the illusions created by the modern greed of mass media, diversion, and deception.

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