Tag Archives: rational and irrational

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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Nature’s Child: Progress vs. Development

Why hast thou stolen into thyself, thyself?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

It may seem odd in this age of technology that anyone would suggest the idea of regression amid such fast-paced progress as we’ve seen in the last century. But, not only are the two ideas relative, together they form a complementary process in which neither works without the other. Psychological functions are paired in opposites designed to balance each other. Throughout centuries of shifts in conscious development, progress in one area means decline in another. Jung wrote:

The child motif represents not only something that existed in the distant past but… something that exists now… it is not just a vestige but a system functioning in the present whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable… extravagances of the conscious mind. It is in the nature of the conscious mind to concentrate on relatively few contents and to raise them to the highest pitch of clarity. A necessary result and precondition is the exclusion of other contents of consciousness…” which is “… bound to bring about a certain one-sidedness.”

Jung saw the child motif as an aspect of the spirit archetype. As a primordial image, it still functions regardless of our views on science and religion — or, in more general terms, rational and irrational — at a given point in history. Science means progress in the spirit of our times, but it also carries with it a dangerous underside. It’s a flattering image for all who identify with it; but if history is any guide, identification with a single function leads to disaster. Despite our most storied achievements, it remain our Achilles’ heel:

Since the… consciousness of civilized man has been granted an effective instrument for the practical realization of its contents  through the dynamics of the will, there is all the more danger, the more he trains his will, of his getting lost in one-sidedness and deviating further and further from the laws and roots of his being. This means, on the one hand, the possibility of human freedom, but on the other it is a source of endless transgressions against one’s instincts. Accordingly, primitive man, being closer to his instincts, is characterized by a fear of novelty and adherence to tradition.”

But, as progress in one direction means regression in another, a kind of primitive fear still lurks in re-interpreting the religious function as opposed to simply dismissing it as fantasy against the literal truths of science. Obsession with novelty in one sphere compensates the fear of it in another, and though much is admirable in the technical creativity celebrated today, it makes for a perilous illusion of a darker psychic reality.

Erich Neumann’s description of the dissociability of the personality reads like a who’s who of the contemporary individual: “This betrays itself in many ways… as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity — all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.”

Superstitious beliefs in the unity of conscious multiplied by seven billion subjective ideologies and the ceaseless speculations of experts on cable news are only so many contradictions. Solutions are generally superficial opinions based on immediate causes and effects which have little to do with the wider development of personality suggested by Neumann. The military man may be a man of faith and even a scientist, too — all his knowledge filtered through a subjective philosophy rooted in the pride of personal identification. Jung:

But our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many delightful wish-fulfilments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes.” Nature decrees that the “fore-thinker” owes something back to the unconscious for the fire he stole…

The symptoms of compensation are described, from the progressive point of view, in scarcely flattering terms. Since, to the superficial eye, it looks like a retarding operation, people speak of inertia, backwardness, skepticism, fault-finding, conservatism, timidity, pettiness… But inasmuch as man has, in high degree, the capacity for cutting himself off from his own roots, he may also be swept uncritically to catastrophe by his dangerous one-sidedness.

The older view… realized that progress is only possible Deo concedente [granted by God]… The more differentiated consciousness becomes, the greater the danger of severance from the root condition. Complete severance comes when the Deo concedente is forgotten…  it is an axiom of psychology that when a part of the psyche is split off from consciousness, it is only apparently inactivated; in actual fact it brings about a possession of the personality, with the result that the individual’s aims are falsified in the interest of the split-off part. If, then, the childhood state of the collective unconscious is repressed to the point of exclusion, the unconscious content overwhelms the conscious aim and inhibits, falsifies, even destroys its realization. Viable progress only comes from the cooperation of both.”

As I quoted Jung in another post, the narrow door of inner confrontation is enough to frighten most people away — but how on earth could it be more frightening than the world spectacle confronting us today?


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Jung’s Definitions of Rational and Irrational

Webster defines rational as: “having or exercising the ability to reason.” Reason is defined as: “An underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence.” Logical is: “reasonable on the basis of previous events or statements.” Webster defines irrational as contrary to reason. Moving from definition to concept, Jung wrote in Psychological Types:  

“I conceive reason as an attitude whose principle it is to conform thought, feeling, and action to objective values. Objective values are established by the everyday experience of external facts on the one hand, and of inner, psychological facts on the other. Such experiences, however, could not represent objective “values” if they were valued as such by the subject, for that would already amount to an act of reason. The rational attitude which permits us to declare objective values as valid at all is not the work of the individual subject, but the product of human history.”

He went on to explain that reason is “…nothing other than the expression of man’s adaptability to average occurrences, which have gradually become deposited in firmly established complexes of ideas that constitute our objective values. Thus the laws of reason are the laws that designate and govern the average…

Jung defined irrational “not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something therefore, not grounded on reason. Elementary facts come into this category; the fact, for example that the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at four degrees centigrade, etc… The irrational is an existential factor which, though it may be pushed further and further out of sight by an increasingly elaborate rational explanation, finally makes the explanation so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension…

“A completely rational explanation of an object that actually exists (not one that is merely posited) is a Utopian ideal. Only an object that is posited can be completely explained on rational grounds, since it does not contain anything beyond what has been posited by rational thinking. Empirical science, too, posits objects that are confined within rational bounds, because by deliberately excluding the accidental it does not consider the actual object as a whole, but only that part of it which has been singled out for rational observation.”

So far, the range of experience falling under the category of irrational and accidental includes all elementary facts of existence, known or not: given properties of the world and how we perceive them. It also includes all objects to the extent they’re unique and individual, as well as all chance events occurring in the relations between individual “objects.” It includes the unconscious psyche, which by definition is unknown and so unlimited. Aspects of these irrational factors have been “singled out for rational observation” as Jung noted; yet they remain, in fact and basis, irrational.

Whatever is “singled out for rational observation” is further restricted to what is accepted as an objective value, though that knowledge is partial by definition. Outside those boundaries, life is irrational.

Jung’s description of rational is the basis for most psychologies today. Since they have no conception of the irrational beyond speculation (and projection), the unconscious psyche can’t be described but in physical terms. Unable to address subjective conflicts (being irrational and accidental by definition) therapists often treat psychic problems physiologically — with drugs. The rational view has no approach to this paradox; the contradictions lie beyond the realm of medical opinion — in the unconscious psyche.

When the explanation is “so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension” and ceases to be rational, Jung attributed the contradictions to the projections of conscious psychology. Though exceeding explanation, these “existential factors” are objective. The contradictions are subjective. They have nothing to do with accepted standards in the way we’re conditioned to think. The subjective factor dictates that they must be viewed in terms of relative values. Since these can’t be “objective”, they have validity only for the individual.

The failure of psychiatry and psychology to acknowledge materialistic projections has resulted in a paradox so pervasive that “mental illness” has actually increased since its inception. Part of it is due to diagnostic methods which can in no way be fitted to the medical model — an indication that psychology has overreached itself to an extent that, were it not for our fascination with ego and intellect, it would surely be seen through by a serious thinker…

And so it was — Jung’s model was comprehensive enough to conceive such projections. Rational thinkers have taken little notice. This is one of the crucial reasons why psychology has no means of evaluating religious ideas, though their profound effects have been proven to be most important for psychic health. One of the goals of religion is to move ego into a subordinate position, to recognize a thing greater than itself. This has been a fundamental tenet of objective values for over five thousand years…


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