Tag Archives: the tension between conscious and unconscious

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In 1912, Einstein introduced his theory of special relativity. One experiment he devised to test his intuition that time and space might be relative to the observer was surprisingly simple:

He set two cameras at either end of a train platform. A car was prepared so that a small explosion triggered at the mid-point of the platform, and the cameras then photographed the explosion at the instant of its detonation. The exact times were recorded at each location; a difference was found between them.

We’re familiar with the impact Einstein’s theories had on science. He proved that time and space are relative to the observer and also to motion. He revolutionized existing conceptions of energy and paved the way for modern technology.

In the same year, C.G. Jung introduced his theory of psychic energy: an analogy of Einstein’s physical discoveries. He showed that perception is relative to the individual; that our human objectivity is not what it appears to be. His ‘subjective factor‘ is still little acknowledged today even by psychology, much less science, a century since. Each in his own field showed that any depth perspective of nature is counter-intuitive.

Einstein’s later theory of general relativity turned Newton’s assumptions about gravity upside down. He proved that the gravitational effect of a body in space is proportional to its mass; that its effects are not immediate but relative to the speed of light. Jung’s studies of complexes again had remarkable similarities with the physical concepts. 

The mass, or value, of a complex of ideas determines the gravitational effects of an instinctual function. The more vital the function, the more its energy draws psychic material to it, creating a complex of emotionally charged associations. Though the function itself is common to all, its subjective value is relative to the individual, and this general principle is borne out by experience:

So much so that the idea of complexes is now used in everyday speech. One may have a ‘power complex’ or an ‘inferiority complex’ or a ‘sexual complex’. It’s part of what makes us unique; a visible form of psychic energy which is expressed in symbols or symbolic behavior.

Jung showed how images reflect natural functions; that the unconscious psyche expresses them in this symbolic picture-language. Much as one might interpret an unknown language through the comparative analysis of the associations and context of certain words and ideas, he discovered basic themes which recur in the myths and symbols of all people. These analogies reflect our common structure.

Personal values both conceal and reveal the dual nature of symbols according to individual disposition. More general perspectives are partially determined by a favored subjective function such as thinking or feeling, and also by the attitude-type. In the extraverted type, the weight of value lies in the external world. In the introvert, the accent is on the internal ‘object’. These, combined with the unique nature of consciousness, are the pre-conditions of perception. 

It’s not exactly a paradox that physical discoveries and their psychic parallels are so unevenly acknowledged. The complexities of self-observation depend on laws which are just as objective as those governing any natural process; but because the subjective mind is unique, they can only be inferred through a process of self-analysis in which the unconscious supplies the objective material for comparison. Few outside observers have the ability beyond their own projections to evaluate the effects of individual development.

Jung’s concepts were as revolutionary as Einstein’s. They’re even more vital in the wake of technological advancements. The quantum physicist is motivated by the same human fears and insecurities as in biblical times — but can he conceive a psychological equivalent of ‘E=MC²’? (Maybe: Psychic energy=concrete thought x the evolution of consciousness²?)

The rational perspective only magnifies the split between an artificial reality and an unconscious psychic one which would guide us in a natural direction. That nature’s inborn wisdom exceeds conscious knowledge is apparent to a reflective mind. But, the ego-projections behind ideological and political disputes make science and technology as dangerous as it is productive. Where is the science of the mind?

Ego-psychologies based on collective norms have failed to deliver. The tension between conscious and unconscious has now reached epic proportions. There are special reasons for this which standardized methods can’t address. That spiritual reflection might be as basic a demand as biological and social ones is beyond their purview.

Spiritual development, the extension of consciousness and not just intellect,  is opposed to the world of the senses; it’s that opposition we’re facing now. Jung conceived a model over a century ago which outlined our modern conflicts. To make any sense of them requires psychological knowledge and reflection, not just conscious belief or rational assumption. 

Jung demonstrated that the religious factor is a vital human function. Has it just disappeared, or have the symbols changed form? The old religion was ineffective to the extent that ego identified with its own compensations. Do we think we understand what that means and what it’s for any more than what E=MC² means to the inner beast that exploits the knowledge in it? 

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