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Of Science and Analogy

Though the older intuitive idea that the individual retraces the development of the species in condensed form (recapitulation) has been discredited by biology as a scientific concept, it’s value as an analogy should not be ignored. Jung offered a wealth of empirical evidence for it in his studies of primitive psychology: “Just as the body is a museum, so to speak, of its history, so too, is the psyche.

Notwithstanding its rejection as a literal biological truth, as an analogy, it may aid us in understanding our natures in ways that the precision of modern science can’t. In its search for objective truth, science depends on concrete and very specialized information; though, our knowledge of objective fact has little altered our ego-image over the centuries. Such facts exist only in the intellect.

We may know, in fact, that we’re animals, yet we still react to animals and nature as if we’re the very gods we’ve projected consciousness into for millennia. The rational, scientific perspective has no empirical concepts to evaluate emotions, values, morality, or the natural limitations of our objectivity needed to express the irrational functions which form our deeper personalities.

Our views of nature and our own natural history continue to deteriorate in direct proportion to conscious development. Few accept in their hearts that, as animals no more or less important (objectively speaking) than any other species on this earth, our values reflect an unconscious disdain for nature as destructive as it is unsustainable.

In an attempt to better understand our subjective reality, I revive the old idea of recapitulation, not to argue scientific principles but analogical ones. Though the evolutionary biologist or embryologist may refute this or that literal point in the following description, it is, as Philip Wylie stated in his, Essay On Morals, a biological analogue:

Each human being from the meeting of his paternal sperm with his maternal ovum, relives the history of his forbears. He is at his beginning awash in mucus, a dividing amoeba — next, a sea anemone with its root in the uterine wall — then a jellyfish — a gilled fish, after that afloat soon in his salty amniotic sea — reptilian then for a while — mammalian presently — and at last, when he is ready to be born, the Primate. So Nature, to create one man, repeats… the forms of his predecessors.

But the born human being, unlike the hatched fish, is not ready to take up even on a miniature scale the ways of the adult. Now, for years instead of months, its development repeats a second pattern — one whereof the basic cast required a million years rather something more than a billion.”

Though depicted in the Old Testament as an “event” — an even older form of analogy — Wylie here links the historical process of coming to consciousness to the contemporary individual’s psychological experience of the evolution from a raw instinctual condition to an increasing self-awareness. This was a major theme of Jung’s work: the value of an historical perspective in determining who we are that we might be more conscious of our responsibility to the future: the god-like task of the Old Testament in modern empirical terms:

“The babe is the brainless, feeding beast that can but cling to its mother’s hair; the infant is the savage — unhousebroken rage and hunger — a very ape; the tot with his sticks and mud pies and witless cruelty of investigation is a Stone Age person; after him comes the school barbarian — full of ritual and superstition, hero worship and familial prides; with the first tinge of adolescence, the mysticisms of the Middle Ages appear; after that (not often, for we have been at this business but a few thousand years and only in a few categories) there occasionally emerges a rare figure, an adult — a human being whose acceptance of what has gone before and whose ever-expanding concern with the truths of what now is give him insight into what is yet to be. This is the individual Homo Sapiens, full grown, fully aware, whose choices are formed according to consciousness of the long evolution of consciousness and whose prospects extend in the same scale.

Argument by analogy is, of course, inferior to demonstration. Yet, the fact that each one little man recapitulates the… swing of evolution in his body, and… that each one human child lives through the rising moods and upward movements of all past human society suggests, at the very least, that consciousness may be the compliment of event, or in some fashion, the mirror of it.

Einstein… is hardly a spontaneous phenomenon: he is at once the purest detachment and the inevitable product of an almost unimaginable train of causes and effects. And, while our knowledge of biology and of anthropology and of sociology does not prove instinct shapes us, or even settle the eternal, dismal, ignorant argument concerning “free will,” it gives a most inferior countenance to all prescientific ideas of God and the human soul. Indeed, it destroys them, simply by providing a more majestic truth — or more majestic set of parallel truths.

What does this say of the perceived majesty of consciousness and its relentlessly destructive nature? Did you read the “news” today?

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Does Abstract Science Equal Concrete Psychology?

“Concretism sets too high a value on the importance of facts and suppresses the freedom of the individual for the sake of objective data. But since the individual is conditioned not merely by physiological stimuli but by factors which may even be opposed to external realities, concretism results in a projection… of these inner factors into the objective data and produces an almost superstitious veneration of mere facts…”  Carl Jung — Psychological Types.

Jung defined concretism as: “the antithesis of abstraction… The actual meaning of concrete is “grown together.” A concretely thought concept is one that has grown together… with other concepts.” His phenomenological approach was an extension of a philosophical phenomenology generally described as “the study of subjective experience.” But, it was his comparative historical approach which defined his concepts, and his studies of primitive psychology laid the empirical foundations:

“Primitive thinking and feeling are entirely concretistic; they are always related to sensation. The thought of the primitive has no detached independence but clings to material phenomena.” Primitive consciousness, for example, is drawn into the object to such an extent that it “does not experience the idea of divinity as a subjective content.” Hmm.

The primitive mind is so mesmerized by the immediacy of sensory reality that perception is indistinguishable from thought. Jung wrote that thoughts simply “happen” to the primitive — just as dreams happen in the modern mind. The psyche arranges the raw material of perception into patterns which, as science and religion show, reflect specific functions. Today, consciousness is confronted with the task of distinguishing inside from outside on a higher level.

Though modern sensibilities might take offense at such comparisons, without them it’s impossible to determine where we are (and where we’re going) in our development. By observing how the psyche has worked over thousands of years, Jung was able to establish an outline of its natural functioning.

“In civilized man, concretistic thinking consists in the inability to conceive of anything except immediately obvious facts transmitted by the senses, or in the inability to discriminate between subjective feeling and the sensed object.” That the most sophisticated abstract thinking could be concrete at the same time is one of the paradoxes of psychic reality.

The primitive idea of divinity as an external object is closely enough related to the idea of a heavenly god (or the conception of god in matter to which Stephen Hawking referred) to get some sense not only of our psychological development but the opposed nature of the functions dictating it. The most basic one relates us to our environment: sense-perception — and scientific preoccupations reveal as much about our unconscious relations to nature as abstract thinking reveals about our relations to ourselves.

“Concretism… falls under the more general concept of participation mystique… Just as the latter represents a fusion of the individual with external objects, concretism represents a fusion of thinking and feeling with sensation, so that the object of one is at the same time the object of the other. This fusion prevents any differentiation of thinking and feeling and keeps them both within the sphere of sensation…

“The disadvantage of concretism is the subjection of the functions to sensation. Because sensation is the perception of physiological stimuli, concretism either rivets the function to the sensory sphere or constantly leads back to it. This results in a bondage of the psychological functions to the senses, favouring the influence of sensual facts at the expense of the psychic independence of the individual. So far as the recognition of facts is concerned this orientation is naturally of value, but not as regards the interpretation of facts and their relation to the individual.”

Jung here brings into focus the subtle relationship between subjective reality and objective science. The profound opposition in our natures is a fundamental psychic condition, and there is stark evidence of it in everything we do. Only now, with the accelerated advance of technology, are we discovering that the mere recognition of it is not sufficient to interpret its consequences.

Narrow the window of time from several hundred centuries to the last fifty years, and you may get a picture of the trajectory of a highly developed intellect which is unable to distinguish itself from the objects of its attention. What may be seen from one perspective may be invisible from another and, though it’s always been, the last century shows the one-sidedness of consciousness to be an increasing threat not only to itself but to all life.

The value of the individual is presupposed by nature. Just as she formed collective instincts to serve life’s purposes, she also placed a premium on the creative instincts of the individual to achieve them. Jung wrote: “Nature cares nothing for the individual yet prizes the individual above all else.”. The paradox of our opposition, “factors which may even be opposed to external reality”, demands more than that we simply follow the lures of science and technology like herd animals. Our inability to see through its illusion is killing us — and everything we touch.

But, how to begin? Continue reading.

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