Tag Archives: symbols and their functions

A Mid-life Perspective: Preface — Part II

“Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.” — Carl Jung

“Ego and Intellect

The identification of ego with intellect contributes to this problematic conception of nature. It long slumbered in Christian theology as identification with an otherworldly God and a disdain for natural life: an image of self-rejection – one of the reasons guilt weighs so heavily in traditional religious ideas. Both are compounded through this identity, the idea of a Deity now yielding to science as it dissolves the metaphysical projections. For all our rational knowledge, we remain driven by the repressed “natural man” who serves the sensual world of material desire – just as he did many thousands of years ago. He personifies the unconscious need for a wider psychological perspective than just an intellectual one – and the internal guilt we never came to terms with because we never understood the reasons for it.

The uneven advance of self-knowledge finds no adequate ideas that would relate us to the ancient symbols and their functions, their irrational truths repressed for lack of understanding. They sink back into the unconscious where they become hostile adversaries. Due to changes in consciousness, they resurface in different guise today, though we remain possessed by their “suprapersonal” powers – paradoxically more distant now than ever. As our relation to ourselves is no longer expressed in the old images, the humbling effects of a higher authority dwindle into vague personal beliefs with no real emotional experience to support them. The result is a “puffing up of the ego-sphere” and the “brutish egotism” to which Neumann referred: an exaggerated urge to individuality which has lost its relation to itself and the world.

From the scientific perspective, religious images are only fantasies. For the less developed intellect of the past, they served to influence thought’s exclusive tendencies. The objective trend today requires a new interpretation of the values they represent. The conflicts of the soul, the emotional tensions determining our deepest relations in the context of a greater whole, are projected onto fractional interests and ideologies with ever more threatening consequences.

Only the hard work of introspection can free the individual from the self-flattering and contradictory influences of ego. The recognition of a higher inner authority beyond will and intellect is a philosophical and religious process meant to bind us to humanity and our natural environment. For science to serve those greater purposes, its aims must be subject to a broader conception of psychic life.

Causality and Purpose

The causal thinking which orients our perception is opposed to the heavy, symbolic language of the unconscious. The one leads backward in time to a cause that produces effects, and the other leads forward to a purpose or goal without conceiving a cause. As a concept, the latter allows the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions evoked by images and symbols to shape themselves; to relate their associations to the pursuit of aims beyond conscious preconception.

Jung saw the idea of time as a primitive concept of energy, a gradient of potential, in that it flows forward in an irreversible way. This is an approximate analogy for his model of psychic energy and the reason time is capitalized in the text when referred to by the figures representing the unconscious. We can reverse it in our minds as in casual thought, but we should be aware that we are projecting subjective ideas onto the objective behavior of processes outside consciousness.

Each individual sees the world a little differently according to his/her personal interpretations: Jung’s “subjective factor”. He stressed that it is “one of the necessary conditions under which all thinking takes place.” We may agree on certain general ways of thinking, but this in no way relieves them of their subjective quality. It is conscious thought which subjectivizes the ideas we associate. The historical advance from collective thinking to individual differentiation accentuates this subjective influence. The tendency toward specialization and the proliferation of “isms” attests this movement. Though still veiled by symbolic mythical influences, the undeveloped seeds of individuality are gradually emerging through the dense fog of collective history – or at least attempting to.

The opposition between causal thought and the forward movement of the unconscious, along with the projection of subjective viewpoints, create contradictions in our thinking. When looking inward, one of the most perplexing ones is the backward flow of dream-images as they draw on past experience. This paradox reflects the double meaning inherent in unconscious imagery, just as it is the basis of the causal view. The opposites are still fused together in the unconscious; it is the discriminating effect of consciousness that splits the original image and reveals only the partial aspect of its focus. Only the two forms of perceiving combined can give us a wider sense of who we are beneath our one-sided presumptions.

Past, present, and future are a single dynamic process in the unconscious. One of the functions of dreams is to express this creative flow through analogies with present circumstances. Since analogies describe how different sets of experiences conform, dreams often express immediate concerns through memory-images. They reveal the conformities of past and present events, our reactions to them, and the anticipations of tendencies which shape our futures. Jung stated: “Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.”

Next post: Religious Images, Alchemy.


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