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Statistics and the Subjective Mind

The individual is the only real carrier of life.” — Carl Jung

The undeniable fact that the body is regulated by nature, along with the absurd idea that humans had otherwise freed themselves from the bondage of instinct, dominated psychology throughout most of the last century. That view loosely fit together certain facts while ignoring others. Such self-inflated notions were not seen as projections of a split condition — nor are they much more acknowledged today.

The complicated nature of its own subjectivity pushed psychology to statistical measurement in an attempt to apply the scientific method. The idea was that emotions could be studied rationally — like objects. The studies did reveal certain strained facts, though many were based on assumptions which only obscured the very processes they tried to illuminate. Fundamental questions as to how the mind worked were thought to have been answered.

But, the scientization of the psyche quickly turned into a paradox. Because the material view saw physical processes as primary, it was forced to concede certain euphemistic ‘drives’ and ‘reflexes’; though because consciousness was no longer presumed to be subject to natural laws, instinct was denied. Observations were unconsciously influenced by subjective assumptions that had been argued for centuries but which history was also refuted.  

Statistics would resolve the contradictions by providing objective data, though it lacked the concepts to evaluate the unconscious processes which influenced their interpretation. Appraisals, based on biology and rationalized by ego, conceived the psyche as secondary, yet consciousness as somehow primary — with no real evidence to support either.

To separate mind and body for purposes of examination was necessary, but its literal conception created contradictions which could only be seen in terms of either/or but not both. What was philosophical speculation was thought to be objective — each partial truth supported by a partial fact.

Notions of free will, self-determination, and the independence of consciousness coexisted with the primacy of physical processes with no functions to mediate them. It was as if thought ruled itself, and the body was a separate entity that intruded only under pathological conditions.

Depression, obsessions, compulsive behaviors, and their origins and effects were treated as physiological problems, since no unconscious mental processes were admitted into its view. Instinctive psychic functions were reduced to biology. The partial explanations piled up with no threads to connect them.

Since the unconscious psyche wasn’t directly observable and expressed its reality through diffuse and contradictory images, logical methods could not be applied to inner experience. Science knew only a causal, material truth; religious ideas became mere fantasies. Unaware of the symbols hidden in its own images, it was fixed on a consciously conceived external reality.

Pre-conceived rationalizations filled the void of projection; all contrary evidence was dismissed, theory accepted as fact. The semi-conscious images beneath the assumptions — the historical nature of all things psychic — were ignored.

The psychological relations between image and object were invisible to a concrete science; the projected inner experience reflected in religious images rejected as meaningless. It was the mind/body equation in symbolic form. Without a concept of unconscious functioning, image and object formed an irreconcilable pair of opposites, much as Aristotle and Plato argued.

Jung showed that the causal viewpoint was only half the picture; that the two worlds of experience couldn’t be evaluated in the same terms. Religious images contained descriptions, not of external reality, but of an objective inner reality that subjective interpretation can only approximate.

He described the fundamental problem with the statistical view: if there are a hundred pebbles, and the average weight of each pebble is .5 grams, there may not be a single pebble which weighs .5 grams. If there is, it’s no less an exception, and the exception becomes the rule. The focus is on the sameness of the pebbles, though it is nowhere apparent; more importantly, their differences disappear. Thought distorts the natural picture to conform to its preconceptions.

In this sense, statistics is an extension of our historical way of thinking. Christ represented a collective ideal, a model Christians strove to emulate. He seems to have been the only pebble in the lot which conformed to this picture (a profound symbol of the individual), yet viewed concretely, he appears only as an inflated, inhuman ideal, an image of conscious desire.

Statistics establishes standards which may broadly orient thought, yet the ideals they represent remain collective assumptions which not only do not acknowledge individual qualities, they devalue the human nature beneath them. The reality of the exception is a universal truth as well: the subjective sense of identity through which we all operate.

In psychology, statistical evaluation is subject to unknown factors in addition to the increasing welter of known ones which must be excluded for the purposes of isolating those for study (the nature of consciousness). The selection of which factors to observe is an assignment of value by the investigator. Value judgments are personal, emotional prejudices which are then infused into the studies.

Interpretations are further removed from objectivity, not just because of their isolation from a living context and the guise of subjective value-judgments, but the unconscious factors inherent in the initial assumptions. Though they may yield certain facts in a prescribed and limited way, they give little information about how we experience life as individuals. 

Statistics lead back to standardized formulas which only reinforce our collective natures and ignore individual truth. Such a model is the most unachievable by the average it was meant to reflect; the psyche fades into the background — lost in the paradox of rules, exceptions, and false ideals.

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