Tag Archives: rational conceptions

Knowledge and Understanding

Centuries of spiritual idealism which sought to develop the soul have… convinced us that we have only to believe in it to achieve it – for those who can still believe. For those who can’t, a new ideal of material progress now discards the too-taxing task of looking inward as not worth the effort…  Ever more advanced technologies draw us further outside ourselves and into devices. Instant access and constant exposure to the subliminal effects of marketing and advertising cultivate unconscious emotions so paradoxical that what is meant to emancipate and connect also finds us dependent and alienated — our most personal and intimate needs indistinguishable from carefully instilled, pre-packed desires.” A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

That consciousness may be spiraling out of control and in danger of losing itself in its own subjectivity, is apparent when viewed from an historical perspective. Important though the sciences of the humanities may be for our education, it’s a mistake to confuse knowledge with understanding. Jung wrote in, Civilization In Transition:

In view of the fact that, in principle, the positive advantages of knowledge work specifically to the disadvantage of understanding, the judgment resulting therefrom is likely to be something of a paradox. Judged scientifically, the individual is nothing but a unit which… could just as well be designated with a letter of the alphabet. For understanding, on the other hand, it is just the unique individual human being who, when stripped of all those conformities and regularities so dear to… the scientist, is the supreme and only real object of investigation.”

Why this is so is frighteningly evident today– not because of the recent advance of science itself but in our use of it. Unless you’re a politician, the people you know are mostly decent folks whose self-deceptions far outweigh any conscious ill-intent to others. But, magnify those seemingly insignificant projections times four billion and re-collectivize them according to ideology, and they morph into world catastrophes waiting to happen:

Scientific education is based in the main on statistical truths and abstract knowledge and therefore imparts an unrealistic, rational picture of the world, in which the individual, as a merely marginal phenomenon, plays no role. The individual, however, as an irrational datum, is the true and authentic carrier of reality, the concrete man as opposed to the unreal ideal or “normal” man to whom scientific statements refer.

That we all have such unrealistic, rational conceptions of ourselves could become clearer  — if we applied our scientific education to our own activities:

What is more, most of the natural sciences try to represent the results of their investigations as though these had come into existence without man’s intervention, in such a way that the collaboration of the psyche… remains invisible… So, in this respect as well, science conveys a picture of the world in which a real human psyche appears to be excluded — the very antithesis of the “humanities“.”

As Jung explained, the paradox results from a psychic condition in which ego is possessed by one function.  This, he described as a new stage of consciousness. The unconscious functions formerly projected into the deity are introjected and felt as personal qualities. The result is an identification with intellect in which ego is “puffed up” or inflated: the self-fulfilling prophecy of the old biblical warning in modern guise.

Under the influence of scientific assumptions, not only the psyche and the individual man and, indeed, all individual events… suffer a levelling down… a process of blurring that distorts the picture of reality into a conceptual average. We ought not to underestimate the psychological effect of the statistical world-picture: it thrusts aside the individual in favor of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations. Instead of the concrete individual, you have the names of organizations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the State as the principle of political reality.”

The current political reality has changed somewhat since Jung’s observations in 1957 — but their bases haven’t. Instead of “the State”, we might refer to vying ideologies paralyzed by conflicts of progression and regression that now find us at a standstill; an unconscious reality is in open rebellion.

Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you have… the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State [the ideology], which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in… an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision of how to live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed, as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.

(Next: Political Reality)

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology