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The Other Side of Science

What we call “psychology” today is a science that can be pursued only on the basis of certain historical and moral premises laid down by Christian education in the last two thousand years. A saying like “Judge not that ye be not judged,” inculcated by religion, has created the possibility of a will which strives, in the last resort, for simple objectivity of judgment.” — Carl Jung.

It was not that long ago (maybe an hour in the life of a modern mind?) from the standpoint of the ‘million year old man‘ that consciousness was able to speculate an idea of objectivity. From that perspective, it was only a few minutes ago that it yielded the facts of subjective development sufficient to distinguish it; though the search for objective truth still doesn’t account for it.

Jung expressed the problem philosophically in terms of ideas having “reality-significance”. We know that an objective reality exists, but consciousness can only infer it. His ‘subjective factor’ describes unconscious processes that the will to objective judgment has yet to address: “the necessary condition under which all thinking takes place.”

Let’s follow these empirical psychic facts back in time an hour or so (from the million year old man’s perspective) and look at some ideas contemporary with the logic which birthed the scientific method. They have reality-significance, but of a different kind than science fancies.

(From, Figures of Earth, the re-telling of a medieval folk-tale by James Branch Cabell in 1919, concerning ‘Manuel the Redeemer’, a folk-analogy of Christ: the unconscious, intuitive side of the collective value-judgments of the time. This conversation is between Manuel and the ‘Fire-Bird’, Zhar-Ptitza, a spirit-figure beyond the sensual ‘clay figures’ Manuel has fashioned from the conventional religious ideas that form his conflict.)

The frivolous question that Manuel raised as to his clay figures, the Zhar-Ptitza considered a very human bit of nonsense: and the wise creature… felt forced to point out that no intelligent bird would ever dream of making images.

“But, sir,” said Manuel, “I do not wish to burden this world with any more lifeless images. Instead, I wish to make… an animated figure, very much as, they say, a god did once upon a time — “

“… you should not try to put too much responsibility on Jahveh,” protested the Zhar-Ptitza… “for Jahveh made only one man, and did not ever do it again. I remember the making of that one man very clearly, for I was created the morning before, with instructions to fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven, so I saw the whole affair. Yes, Jahveh did create the first man on the sixth day. And I voiced no criticism. For of course after working continuously for nearly a whole week… no creative artist should be blamed for not being in the happiest vein on the sixth day.”

“Well, well, I do not assert that the making of men is the highest form of art, yet, none the less, a geas is upon me to make of myself a very splendid and admirable young man.”

“… To what permanent use could one put a human being even if the creature were virtuous and handsome to look at? Ah, Manuel, you have not seen them pass as I have seen them pass… in swarms, with their wars and their reforms and their great causes, and leaving nothing but their bones behind them.” 

“Yes, yes, to you, at your age, who were old when Ninevah was planned, it must seem strange; and I do not know why my mother desired I should make myself a splendid and admirable young man. But the geas is upon me.”

It may be today that these questions are more styled by biology, genetics, or evolutionary anthropology, but the ‘geas’ of Manuel is the psychic urge of an instinctual nature that proscribes its own laws irrespective of clime, culture, or common sense …

“The Zhar-Ptitza sighed. “Certainly these feminine whims are not easily explained. Yet your people have some way of making brand-new men and women of all kinds… otherwise the race would have been extinct a great while since at the rate they kill one another. And perhaps they do adhere to Jahveh’s method, and make fresh human beings out of earth, for… I have seen the small, recently completed ones, who look exactly like red clay.”

“It is undeniable that babies do have something of that look,” assented Manuel. “So then… do you think I may be working in the proper medium?”

“It seems plausible, because I am certain your people are not intelligent enough to lay eggs, nor could, of course, such an impatient race succeed in getting eggs hatched.  At all events, they have undoubtedly contrived some method or other, and you might find out from the least foolish of them about that method.”

“Who, then, is the least foolish of mankind?”

“Probably King Helmas of Albania, for it was prophesied by me a great while ago that he would become the wisest of men if ever he could come by one of my shining white feathers, and I hear it reported he has done so.”

“Sir,” said Manuel dubiously, “I must tell you in confidence that the feather King Helmas has is not yours, but was plucked from the wing of an ordinary goose.”

“Does that matter?” asked the Zhar-Ptitza. “I never prophesied, of course, that he actually would find one of my shining white feathers…”

“But how can there be any magic in a goose feather?”

“There is this magic, that, possessing it, King Helmas has faith in it, and has stopped bothering about himself.”

“Is not to bother about yourself the highest wisdom?”

“Oh, no… I merely said that it is the highest of which man is capable.”

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Jung’s Theory of Complexes

The idea of complexes is so well established today, it’s a common figure of speech. Alfred Adler long ago introduced the idea of an inferiority complex, and most of us know what is meant by it. It works together with its opposite, and an over-compensating facade of superiority conceals it.

An unconscious complex describes one of those curious blind-spots in our personalities that only others may see. Those who know us may have to tip-toe around them, because we’re unconsciously sensitive to them. They evoke defensive reactions when triggered and often result in the anger that masks our fear of them — the surest sign of a weak spot, that we’re not in control.

Along with many of Jung’s concepts, his theory of complexes seems only half-acknowledged as a fundamental building block in understanding how our minds work. Psychology fancies having gone beyond those basics, even as it never really understood their implications. His ideas seem to have been dismissed by an attitude peculiarly suggestive of misunderstanding and denial.

Jung’s discovery that we connect with our deepest natures through religious and philosophical ideas is more and more obscured by a science focused on the material world. Psychology moves only further away from the psyche through a technological faddism blinded by the glare of disparate tid-bits of statistical and technical knowledge. The science charged to make sense of an immaterial mind is unable to see through the concreteness of data, measurement, precision instruments, and all the rest of the bandwagon of rational thought.

Part of the problem is the lack of an empirical concept of the unconscious. That there could even be psychologies today which don’t acknowledge it is itself a study in complexes. We can’t see it directly as one would view molecules under microscopes or brains through electronic scans; but there are objective ways to infer its heavy influence on how we think and feel.

Jung’s study of complexes began with his association tests.  A subject’s one-word response to a stimulus word was timed and recorded. Delays in responses to certain words, lack of memory of them, and other disturbances of what would normally be a simple exercise in word-association prompted him to look closer. Inappropriate responses (those against instruction), facial expressions, body movements, stammering, habitual repetition of the same words — all these reactions were beyond control of the will.

The emotional roots of the disturbances could gradually be identified by honing in on the stimulus words and their patterns. The ones causing the disturbances revolved around certain general ideas that hung together in a meaningful way. Over the course of a hundred words or so, a picture emerged to a skilled observer. The more knowledge of the subject and the more targeted the trigger words, the more information was revealed.

All pointed toward concealed, semi-conscious, repressed, and/or completely unconscious contents which revolved around decisive issues in the subject’s life. Jung wrote in The Symbolic Life:

A complex is an agglomeration of associations — a sort of picture of… a psychological nature — sometimes of traumatic character, sometimes simply of a painful and highly toned character. Everything that is highly toned is rather difficult to handle… It is simply an important affair, and whatever has an intense feeling-tone is difficult to handle because such contents are associated with physiological reactions, with the processes of the heart, the tonus of the blood vessels, the condition of the intestines, the breathing, and the innervation of the skin… it is just as if that particular complex had a body of its own, as if it were localized in my body to a certain extent…

The implications of these processes go far beyond mere Freudian slips. Who would need a clearer picture of the mutual effects of mind and body? That the psyche would send forth signals through the body, symbols, of its own life through its own ideas in an unconscious effort to translate to consciousness what it was feeling, what had been repressed? Jung:

… a complex with its given tension or energy has the tendency to form a little personality of itself. It has a sort of body, a certain amount of its own physiology. It can upset the stomach. It upsets the breathing, it disturbs the heart — in short, it behaves like a partial personality. For instance, when you want to say or do something and… a complex interferes with this intention… your best intention gets upset by the complex, exactly as if you had been interfered with by a human being or by circumstances outside.

Regardless of how consciousness interprets itself, its “own” ideas, or its will, there are psychic facts which appear as outer circumstances and events  — but which are not. It would seem that psychology today is interested more in how it can relieve the symptoms of being human — of hiding from the mystery of life rather than trying to understand it:

All this is explained by the fact that the so-called unity of consciousness is an illusion. It is really a wish-dream.  We like to think that we are one; but we are not, most decidedly not. We are not really masters in our house. We like to believe in our will-power and in our energy and in what we can do; but when it comes to a real show-down we find that we can do it only to a certain extent…

The real show-down is now. What will we do?

 

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