Modern Man in Search of a Soul
The Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology Chapter IX of Modern Man in Search of a Soul:
It was universally believed in the Middle Ages as well as in the Græco-Roman world that the soul is a substance. Indeed, mankind as a whole has held this belief from its earliest beginnings, and it was left for the second half of the nineteenth century to develop a “psychology without the soul”. [the German Seele = soul or psyche] Under the influence of scientific materialism, everything that could not be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands was held in doubt; such things were even laughed at because of their supposed affinity with metaphysics. Nothing was considered “scientific” or admitted to be true unless it could be perceived by the senses or traced back to physical causes.
This radical change of view did not begin with philosophical materialism, for the way was being prepared long before. When the spiritual catastrophe of the Reformation put an end to the Gothic Age with its impetuous yearning for the heights, its geographical confinement, and its restricted view of the world, the vertical outlook of the European mind was forthwith intersected by the horizontal outlook of modern times. Consciousness ceased to grow upward, and grew instead in breadth of view, as well as in knowledge of the terrestrial globe. This was the period of the great voyages, and of the widening of man’s ideas of the world by empirical discoveries. Belief in the substantiality of the spirit yielded more and more to the obtrusive conviction that material things alone have substance, till at last, after nearly four hundred years, the leading European thinkers and investigators came to regard the mind as wholly dependent on matter and material causation.
We are certainly not justified in saying that philosophy or natural science has brought about this complete volte-face. There were always a fair number of intelligent philosophers and scientists who had enough insight and depth of thought to accept this irrational reversal of standpoint only under protest; a few even resisted it, but they had no following and were powerless against the popular attitude of unreasoned, not to say emotional, surrender to the all-importance of the physical world. Let no one suppose that so radical a change in man’s outlook could be brought about by reasoning and reflection, for no chain of reasoning can prove or disprove the existence of either mind or matter.
Both these concepts, as every intelligent man today may ascertain for himself, are mere symbols that stand for something unknown and unexplored, and this something is postulated or denied according to man’s mood and disposition or as the spirit of the age dictates. There is nothing to prevent the speculative intellect from treating the psyche, on the one hand, as a complicated biochemical phenomenon, and at bottom a mere play of electrons, or, on the other, from regarding the unpredictable behaviour of electrons as the sign of mental life even in them.
The fact that a metaphysics of the mind was supplanted in the nineteenth century by a metaphysics of matter, is a mere trick if we consider it as a question for the intellect; yet regarded from the standpoint of psychology, it is an unexampled revolution in man’s outlook upon the world. Other-worldliness is converted into matter-of-factness; empirical boundaries are set to man’s discussion of every problem, to his choice of purposes, and even to what he calls “meaning”. Intangible, inner happenings seem to have to yield place to things in the external, tangible world, and no value exists if it is not founded on a so-called fact. At least, this is how it appears to the simple mind.
It is futile, indeed, to attempt to treat this unreasoned change of opinion as a question of philosophy. We had better not try to do so, for if we maintain that mental phenomena arise from the activity of glands, we are sure of the thanks and respect of our contemporaries, whereas if we explain the break-up of the atom in the sun as an emanation of the creative Weltgeist, we shall be looked down upon as intellectual freaks. And yet both views are equally logical, equally metaphysical, equally arbitrary and equally symbolic.
From the standpoint of epistemology it is just as admissible to derive animals from the human species, as man from animal species. But we know how ill Professor Daque fared in his academic career because of his sin against the spirit of the age, which will not let itself be trifled with. It is a religion, or — even more — a creed which has absolutely no connection with reason, but whose significance lies in the unpleasant fact that it is taken as the absolute measure of all truth and is supposed always to have common-sense upon its side.
The spirit of the age cannot be compassed by the processes of human reason. It is an inclination, an emotional tendency that works upon weaker minds, through the unconscious, with an overwhelming force of suggestion that carries them along with it. To think otherwise than our contemporaries think is somehow illegitimate and disturbing; it is even indecent, morbid or blasphemous, and therefore socially dangerous for the individual. He is stupidly swimming against the social current. Just as formerly the assumption was unquestionable that everything that exists takes its rise from the creative will of a God who is spirit, so the nineteenth century discovered the equally unquestionable truth that everything arises from material causes.
Today the psyche does not build itself a body, but on the contrary, matter, by chemical action, produces the psyche. This reversal of outlook would be ludicrous if it were not one of the outstanding features of the spirit of the age. It is the popular way of thinking, and therefore it is decent, reasonable, scientific and normal. Mind must be thought to be an epiphenomenon of matter. The same conclusion is reached even if we say not “mind” but “psyche”, and in place of matter speak of brain, hormones, instincts or drives. To grant the substantiality of the soul or psyche is repugnant to the spirit of the age, for to do so would be heresy.
We have now discovered that it was intellectually unjustified presumption on our forefathers’ part to assume that man has a soul; that that soul has substance, is of divine nature and therefore immortal; that there is a power inherent in it which builds up the body, supports its life, heals its ills and enables the soul to live independently of the body; that there are incorporeal spirits with which the soul associates; and that beyond our empirical present there is a spiritual world from which the soul receives knowledge of spiritual things whose origins cannot be discovered in this visible world.
But people who are not above the general level of consciousness have not yet discovered that it is just as presumptuous and fantastic for us to assume that matter produces spirit; that apes give rise to human beings; that from the harmonious interplay of the drives of hunger, love, and power Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason should have arisen; that the brain-cells manufacture thoughts, and that all this could not possibly be other than it is.
What or who, indeed, is this all-powerful matter? It is once more man’s picture of a creative god, stripped this time of his anthropomorphic traits and taking the form of a universal concept whose meaning everyone presumes to understand. Consciousness today has grown enormously in breadth and extent, but unfortunately only in spatial dimensions; its temporal reach has not increased, for were that the case we should have a much more living sense of history.
If our consciousness were not of today only, but had historical continuity, we should be reminded of similar transformations of the divine principle in Greek philosophy, and this might dispose us to be more critical of our present philosophical assumptions. We are, however, effectively prevented from indulging in such reflections by the spirit of the age. It looks upon history as a mere arsenal of convenient arguments that enables us, on occasion, to say: “Why, even old Aristotle knew that.” This being the state of affairs, we must ask ourselves how the spirit of the age attains such an uncanny power. It is without doubt a psychic phenomenon of the greatest importance — at all events a prejudice so deeply rooted that until we give it proper consideration we cannot even approach the problem of the psyche.
As I have said, the irresistible tendency to account for everything on physical grounds corresponds to the horizontal development of consciousness in the last four centuries, and this horizontal perspective is a reaction against the exclusively vertical perspective of the Gothic Age. It is a manifestation of the collective mind, and as such is not to be treated in terms of the consciousness of individuals. Resembling in this the primitives, we are at first wholly unconscious of our actions, and only discover long afterwards why it was that we acted in a certain way. In the meantime, we content ourselves with all sorts of rationalized accounts of our behavior, all of them equally inadequate.
If we were conscious of the spirit of the age, we should know why we are so inclined to account for everything on physical grounds; we should know that it is because, up till now, too much was accounted for in terms of the spirit. This realization would at once make us critical of our bias. We should say: most likely we are now making as serious an error on the other side.
We delude ourselves with the thought that we know much more about matter than about a “metaphysical” mind, and so we overestimate physical causation and believe that it alone affords us a true explanation of life. But matter is just as inscrutable as mind. As to the ultimate we can know nothing, and only when we admit this do we return to a state of equilibrium. This is in no way to deny the close connection of psychic happenings with the physiological structure of the brain, with the glands, and the body in general. We are once for all deeply convinced of the fact that the contents of consciousness are to a large part determined by our sense-perceptions.
We cannot fail to recognize that unalterable characteristics of a physical as well as a psychic nature are unconsciously ingrained in us by heredity, and we are deeply struck by the power of the instincts which inhibit or reinforce or otherwise modify our mental capacities. Indeed, we must admit that as to cause, purpose and meaning, the human psyche — however we approach it — is first and foremost a close reflection of everything we call corporeal, empirical and mundane.
And finally, in the face of all these admissions, we must ask ourselves if the psyche is not after all a secondary manifestation — an epiphenomenon — and completely dependent upon the body. In the light of reason and of our commitments as practical men to an actual world, we say yes. It is only our doubts as to the omnipotence of matter which could lead us to examine in a critical way this verdict of science upon the human psyche.
The objection has already been raised that this approach reduces psychic happenings to a kind of activity of the glands; thoughts are regarded as secretions of the brain, and so we achieve a psychology without the psyche. From this standpoint, it must be confessed, the psyche does not exist in its own right; it is nothing in itself, but is the mere expression of physical processes. That these processes have the qualities of consciousness is just an irreducible fact — were it otherwise, so the argument runs, we could not speak of the psyche at all; there would be no consciousness, and so we should have nothing to say about anything. Consciousness, therefore, is taken as the sine qua non of psychic life — that is to say, as the psyche itself. And so it comes about that all modern “psychologies without the psyche” are studies of consciousness which ignore the existence of unconscious psychic life.
Yet there is not one modern psychology — there are several. This is curious enough when we remember that there is only one science of mathematics, of geology, zoology, botany and so forth. But there are so many psychologies that an American University was able to publish a thick volume under the title: Psychologies of 1930. I believe there are as many psychologies as philosophies, for there is also no one single philosophy, but many. I mention this for the reason that philosophy and psychology are linked by indissoluble bonds which are kept in being by the inter-relation of their subject-matters. Psychology takes the psyche for its subject-matter, and philosophy — to put it briefly — takes the world. Until recently psychology was a special branch of philosophy, but now we are coming to something which Nietzsche foresaw the ascendance of psychology in its own right.
It is even threatening to swallow philosophy. The inner resemblance of the two disciplines consists in this, that both are systems of opinion about subject-matter which cannot be fully experienced and therefore cannot be comprehended by a purely empirical approach. Both fields of study thus encourage speculation, with the result that opinions are formed in such variety and profusion that heavy volumes are needed to contain them all, whether they belong to the one field or to the other. Neither discipline can do without the other, and the one always furnishes the implicit — and frequently even unconscious — primary assumptions of the other.
The modern preference for physical grounds of explanation leads, as already remarked, to a “psychology without the psyche” — I mean, to the view that the psyche is nothing but a product of biochemical processes. As for a modern, scientific psychology which starts from the mind as such, there simply is none. No one today would venture to found a scientific psychology upon the postulate of an independent psyche that is not determined by the body. The idea of spirit in and for itself, of a self-contained world-system of the spirit that is the only adequate postulate for the belief in autonomous, individual souls, is extremely unpopular with us, to say the least.
But I must remark that, in 1914, I attended at Bedford College, London, a joint session of the Aristotelian Society, the Mind Association and the British Psychological Society, at which a symposium was held on the question: Are individual minds contained in God or are they not? Should anyone in England dispute the scientific standing of these societies, he would not receive a very cordial hearing, for their membership includes the outstanding minds of the country. And perhaps I was the only person in the audience who listened with surprise to arguments that had the ring of the thirteenth century. This instance may serve to show that the idea of an autonomous spirit whose existence is taken for granted has not died out everywhere in Europe or become a mere fossil left over from the Middle Ages.
If we keep this in mind, we can perhaps summon up the courage to consider the possibility of a “psychology with the psyche” — that is, of a field of study based on the assumption of an autonomous psyche. We need not be alarmed at the unpopularity of such an undertaking, for to postulate mind is no more fantastic than to postulate matter. Since we have literally no idea of the way in which what is psychic can arise from physical elements, and yet cannot deny the reality of psychic events, we are free to frame our assumptions the other way about for once, and to hold that the psyche arises from a spiritual principle which is as inaccessible to our understanding as matter. To be sure, this will not be a modern psychology, for to be modern is to deny such a possibility.
For better or worse, therefore, we must turn back to the teachings of our forefathers, for they it was who made such assumptions. The ancient view held that spirit was essentially the life of the body, the life-breath, or a kind of life-force which assumed spatial and corporeal form at birth or after conception, and left the dying body again after the final breath. The spirit in itself was considered as a being without extension, and because it existed before taking corporeal form and afterwards as well, it was considered as timeless and hence immortal. From the standpoint of modern, scientific psychology, this conception is of course pure illusion. But as it is not our intention to indulge in “metaphysics”, even of a modern variety, we will examine this time-honoured notion for once in an unprejudiced way and test its empirical justification.
The names people give to their experiences are often quite enlightening. What is the origin of the word Seele? Like the English word soul, it comes from the Gothic saiwala and the Old German saiwalô , and these can be connected with the Greek aiolos, mobile, coloured, iridescent. The Greek word psyche also means butterfly. Saiwalô is related on the other side to the old Slavonic word sila , meaning strength. From these connections light is thrown on the original meaning of the word Seele: it is moving force, that is, life-force.
The Latin words animus, spirit, and anima, soul, are the same as the Greek anemos, wind. The other Greek word for wind, pneuma, means also spirit. In Gothic we find the same word in us-anan , to breathe out, and in Latin an-helare, to pant. In Old High German, spiritus sanctus was rendered by atun, breath. In Arabic, wind is rîh, and rûh is soul, spirit. There is a quite similar connection with the Greek psyche, which is related to psycho, to breathe, psychos, cool, psychros, cold, and phusa, bellows. These affinities show clearly how in Latin, Greek and Arabic the names given to the soul are related to the notion of moving air, the “cold breath of the spirit”. And this also is why the primitive point of view endows the soul with an invisible breath-body.
It is quite evident that, since breath is the sign of life, breath is taken for life, as are also movement and moving force. According to another primitive view the soul is regarded as fire or flame, because warmth also is a sign of life. A very curious, but by no means rare, primitive conception identifies the soul with the name. The name of an individual is his soul, and hence arises the custom of using the ancestor’s name to reincarnate the ancestral soul in the new-born child. We can infer from this that the ego consciousness was recognized as an expression of the soul. Not infrequently the soul is identified with the shadow, for which reason it is a deadly insult to tread upon a person’s shadow.
For the same reason, noon-day, the ghost-hour of southern latitudes, is considered threatening; the shadow then grows small, and this means that life is endangered. This conception of the shadow contains an idea which was indicated by the Greeks in the word synopados, “he who follows behind”. They expressed in this way the feeling of an intangible, living presence — the same feeling which led to the belief that the souls of the departed were shadows.
These indications may serve to show how primitive man experienced the psyche. To him the psyche appears as the source of life, the prime mover, a ghost-like presence which has objective reality. Therefore the primitive knows how to converse with his soul; it becomes vocal within him because it is not he himself and his consciousness. To primitive man the psyche is not, as it is to us, the epitome of all that is subjective and subject to the will; on the contrary, it is something objective, contained in itself, and living its own life.
This way of looking at the matter is empirically justified, for not only on the primitive level, but with civilized man as well, psychic happenings have an objective side. In large measure they are withdrawn from our conscious control. We are unable, for example, to suppress many of our emotions; we cannot change a bad mood into a good one, and we cannot command our dreams to come or go. The most intelligent man may at times be obsessed with thoughts which he cannot drive away with the greatest effort of will. The mad tricks that memory plays sometimes leave us in helpless amazement, and at any time — unexpected fantasies may run through our minds. We only believe that we are masters in our own house because we like to flatter ourselves.
Actually, however, we are dependent to a startling degree upon the proper functioning of the unconscious psyche, and must trust that it does not fail us. If we study the psychic processes of neurotic persons, it seems perfectly ludicrous that any psychologist could take the psyche as the equivalent of consciousness. And it is well known that the psychic processes of neurotics differ hardly at all from those of so-called normal persons — for what man today is quite sure that he is not neurotic?
This being so, we shall do well to admit that there is justification for the old view of the soul as an objective reality — as something independent, and therefore capricious and dangerous. The further assumption that this being, so mysterious and terrifying, is at the same time the source of life, is also understandable in the light of psychology. Experience shows us that the sense of the “I” — the ego consciousness — grows out of unconscious life. The small child has psychic life without any demonstrable ego consciousness, for which reason the earliest years leave hardly any traces in memory.
Where do all our good and helpful flashes of intelligence come from? What is the source of our enthusiasms, inspirations, and of our heightened feeling for life? The primitive senses in the depths of his soul the springs of life; he is deeply impressed with the life-dispensing activity of his soul, and he therefore believes in everything that affects it — in magical practices of every kind. That is why, for him, the soul is life itself. He does not imagine that he directs it, but feels himself dependent upon it in every respect.
However preposterous the idea of the immortality of the soul may seem to us, it is nothing extraordinary to the primitive. After all, the soul is something out of the common. While everything else that exists takes up a certain amount of room, the soul cannot be located in space. We suppose, of course, that our thoughts are in our heads, but when it comes to our feelings we begin to be uncertain; they appear to dwell in the region of the heart. Our sensations are distributed over the whole body.
Our theory is that the seat of consciousness is in the head, but the Pueblo Indians told me that Americans were mad because they believed their thoughts were in their heads, whereas any sensible man knows that he thinks with his heart. Certain negro tribes locate their psychic functioning neither in the head nor in the heart, but in the belly.
To this uncertainty about the localization of psychic functions another difficulty is added. Psychic contents in general are non-spatial except in the particular realm of sensation. What bulk can we ascribe to thoughts? Are they small, large, long, thin, heavy, fluid, straight, circular, or what? If we wished to form a vivid picture of a non-spatial being of the fourth dimension, we should do well to take thought, as a being, for our model.
It would all be so much simpler if we could only deny the existence of the psyche. But here we are with our immediate experiences of something that is — something that has taken root in the midst of our measurable, ponderable, three dimensional reality, that differs bafflingly from this in every respect and in all its parts, and yet reflects it. The psyche may be regarded as a mathematical point and at the same time as a universe of fixed stars. It is small wonder, then, if, to the unsophisticated mind, such a paradoxical being borders on the divine.
If it occupies no space, it has no body. Bodies die, but can something invisible and incorporeal disappear? What is more, life and psyche existed for me before I could say “I”, and when this “I” disappears, as in sleep or unconsciousness, life and psyche still go on, as our observation of other people and our own dreams inform us. Why should the simple mind deny, in the face of such experiences, that the “soul” lives in a realm beyond the body? I must admit that I can see as little nonsense in this so-called superstition as in the findings of research regarding heredity or the basic instincts.
We can easily understand why higher and even divine knowledge was formerly ascribed to the psyche if we remember that in ancient cultures, beginning with primitive times, man always resorted to dreams and visions as a source of information. It is a fact that the unconscious contains subliminal perceptions whose scope is nothing less than astounding. In recognition of this fact, primitive societies used dreams and visions as important sources of information. Great and enduring civilizations like those of the Hindus and Chinese built upon this foundation and developed from it a discipline of self-knowledge which they brought to a high pitch of refinement both in philosophy and in practice.
A high regard for the unconscious psyche as a source of knowledge is by no means such a delusion as our Western rationalism likes to suppose. We are inclined to assume that, in the last resort, all knowledge comes from without. Yet today we know for certain that the unconscious contains contents which would mean an immeasurable increase of knowledge if they could only be made conscious. Modern investigation of animal instinct, as for example in insects, has brought together a rich fund of empirical findings which show that if man acted as certain insects do he would possess a higher intelligence than at present. It cannot, of course, be proved that insects possess conscious knowledge, but common-sense cannot doubt that their unconscious action-patterns are psychic functions.
Man’s unconscious likewise contains all the patterns of life and behavior inherited from his ancestors, so that every human child, prior to consciousness, is possessed of a potential system of adapted psychic functioning. In the conscious life of the adult, as well, this unconscious, instinctive functioning is always present and active. In this activity all the functions of the conscious psyche are prepared for. The unconscious perceives, has purposes and intuitions, feels and thinks as does the conscious mind. We find sufficient evidence for this in the field of psycho-pathology and the investigation of dream-processes.
Only in one respect is there an essential difference between the conscious and the unconscious functioning of the psyche. While consciousness is intensive and concentrated, it is transient and is directed upon the immediate present and the immediate field of attention; moreover, it has access only to material that represents one individual’s experience stretching over a few decades. A wider range of “memory” is artificially acquired and consists mostly of printed paper. But matters stand very differently with the unconscious. It is not concentrated and intensive, but shades off into obscurity; it is highly extensive and can juxtapose the most heterogeneous elements in the most paradoxical way.
More than this, it contains, besides an indeterminable number of subliminal perceptions, an immense fund of accumulated inheritance — factors left by one generation of men after another, whose mere existence marks a step in the differentiation of the species. If it were permissible to personify the unconscious, we might call it a collective human being combining the characteristics of both sexes, transcending youth and age, birth and death, and, from having at his command a human experience of one or two million years, almost immortal.
If such a being existed, he would be exalted above all temporal change; the present would mean neither more nor less to him than any year in the one hundredth century before Christ; he would be a dreamer of age-old dreams and, owing to his immeasurable experience, he would be an incomparable prognosticator. He would have lived countless times over the life of the individual, of the family, tribe and people, and he would possess the living sense of the rhythm of growth, flowering and decay.
Unfortunately — or rather let us say, fortunately — this being dreams. At least it seems to us as if the collective unconscious, which appears to us in dreams, had no consciousness of its own contents — though of course we cannot be sure of this, any more than we are in the case of insects. The collective unconscious, moreover, seems not to be a person, but something like an unceasing stream or perhaps an ocean of images and figures which drift into consciousness in our dreams or in abnormal states of mind.
It would be positively grotesque for us to call this immense system of experience of the unconscious psyche an illusion, for our visible and tangible body itself is just such a system. It still carries within it the discernible traces of primeval evolution, and it is certainly a whole that functions purposively — for otherwise we could not live. It would never occur to anyone to look upon comparative anatomy or physiology as nonsense. And so we cannot dismiss the collective unconscious as illusion, or refuse to recognize and study it as a valuable source of knowledge.
Looked at from without, the psyche appears to us to be essentially a reflection of external happenings — to be not only occasioned by them, but to have its origin in them. And it also seems to us that the unconscious can be understood only from without and from the side of consciousness. It is well known that Freud has attempted an explanation from this side — an undertaking which could only succeed if the unconscious were actually something which came into being with the existence and consciousness of the individual.
But the truth is that the unconscious is always there beforehand as a potential system of psychic functioning handed down by generations of man. Consciousness is a late-born descendant of the unconscious psyche. It would certainly show perversity if we tried to explain the lives of our ancestors in terms of their late descendants; and it is just as wrong, in my opinion, to regard the unconscious as a derivative of consciousness. We are nearer the truth if we put it the other way round.
But this was the standpoint of past ages, which always held the individual soul to be dependent upon a world-system of the spirit. They could not fail to do so, because they were aware of the untold treasure of experience lying hidden beneath the threshold of the transient consciousness of the individual.
These ages not only formed an hypothesis about the world system of the spirit, but they assumed without question that this system was a being with a will and consciousness — was even a person — and they called this being God, the quintessence of reality. He was for them the most real of beings, the first cause, through whom alone the soul could be understood. There is psychological justification for this supposition, for it is only appropriate to call divine an almost immortal being whose experience, compared to that of man, is nearly eternal.
In the foregoing I have shown where the problems lie for a psychology that does not explain everything upon physical grounds, but appeals to a world of the spirit whose active principle is neither matter and its qualities nor any state of energy, but God. We might be tempted at this juncture by modern philosophy to call energy or the clan vital God, and thus to blend into one spirit and nature.
As long as this undertaking is restricted to the misty heights of speculative philosophy, no great harm is done But if we should operate with this idea in the lower realm of practical psychology, where our way of explaining things bears fruit in daily conduct, we should find ourselves involved in the most hopeless difficulties. We do not profess a psychology shaped to the academic taste, or seek explanations that have no bearing on life.
What we want is a practical psychology which yields approvable results — one which helps us to explain things in a way that is justified by the outcome for the patient. In practical psychotherapy we strive to fit people for life, and we are not free to set up theories which do not concern our patients or which may even injure them. Here we come to a question which is often attended by mortal danger — the question whether we base our explanations upon matter or upon spirit.
We must never forget that everything spiritual is illusion from the naturalistic standpoint, and that the spirit, to ensure its own existence, must often deny and overcome an obtrusive, physical fact. If I recognize only naturalistic values, and explain everything in physical terms, I shall depreciate, hinder or even destroy the spiritual development of my patients.
And if I hold exclusively to a spiritual interpretation, then I shall misunderstand and do violence to the natural man in his right to existence as a physical being. More than a few suicides in the course of psycho-therapeutic treatment are to be laid at the door of such mistakes. Whether energy is God, or God is energy, concerns me very little, for how, in any case, can I know such things? But to give appropriate psychological explanations — this I must be able to do.
The modern psychologist occupies neither the one position nor the other, but finds himself between the two, dangerously committed to “this as well as that” — a situation which invitingly opens the way to a shallow opportunism. This is undoubtedly the danger of the coincidentia oppositorum — of intellectual liberation from the opposites. How should anything but a formless and aimless uncertainty result from giving equal value to contradictory postulates? In contrast to this, we can readily appreciate the advantage of an explanatory principle that is unequivocal.
It allows of a standpoint which can serve as a point of reference. Undoubtedly we are confronted here with a very difficult problem. We must be able to appeal to an explanatory principle founded on reality, and yet it is no longer possible for the modern psychologist to believe exclusively in the physical aspect of reality when once he has given the spiritual aspect its due. Nor will he be able to put weight on the latter alone, for he cannot ignore the relative validity of a physical interpretation.
The following train of thought shows my way of attempting the solution of this problem. The conflict of nature and mind is itself a reflection of the paradox contained in the psychic being of man. This reveals a material and a spiritual aspect which appear a contradiction as long as we fail to understand the nature of psychic life.
Whenever, with our human understanding, we must pronounce upon something that we have not grasped or cannot grasp, then — if we are honest — we must be willing to contradict ourselves, and we must pull this something into its antithetical parts in order to deal with it at all. The conflict of the material and spiritual aspects of life only shows that the psychic is in the last resort an incomprehensible something. Without a doubt psychic happenings constitute our only, immediate experience. All that I experience is psychic. Even physical pain is a psychic event that belongs to my experience.
My sense-impressions — for all that they force upon me a world of impenetrable objects occupying space — are psychic images, and these alone are my immediate experience, for they alone are the immediate objects of my consciousness. My own psyche even transforms and falsifies reality, and it does this to such a degree that I must resort to artificial means to determine what things are like apart from myself.
Then I discover that a tone is a vibration of the air of such and such a frequency, or that a color is a wave-length of light of such and such a length. We are in all truth so enclosed by psychic images that we cannot penetrate to the essence of things external to ourselves. All our knowledge is conditioned by the psyche which, because it alone is immediate, is superlatively real. Here there is a reality to which the psychologist can appeal — namely, psychic reality.
If we go more deeply into the meaning of this concept, it seems to us that certain psychic contents or images are derived from a material environment to which our bodies also belong, while others, which are in no way less real, seem to come from a mental source which appears to be very different from the physical environment. Whether I picture to myself the car I wish to buy, or try to imagine the state in which the soul of my dead father now is — whether it is an external fact or a thought that occupies me — both happenings are psychic reality.
The only difference is that one psychic happening refers to the physical world, and the other to the mental world. If I change my concept of reality in such a way as to admit that all psychic happenings are real — and no other use of the concept is valid — this puts an end to the conflict of matter and mind as contradictory explanatory principles.
Each becomes a mere designation for the particular source of the psychic contents that crowd into my field of consciousness. If a fire burns me I do not question the reality of the fire, whereas if I am beset by the fear that a ghost will appear, I take refuge behind the thought that it is only an illusion.
But just as the fire is the psychic image of a physical process whose nature is unknown so my fear of the ghost is a psychic image from a mental source; it is just as real as the fire, for my fear is as real as the pain caused by the fire. As for the mental process that finally underlies my fear of the ghost — it is as unknown to me as the ultimate nature of matter. And just as it never occurs to me to account for the nature of fire except by the concepts of chemistry and physics, so I would never think of trying to explain my fear of ghosts except in terms of mental processes.
The fact that all immediate experience is psychic and that immediate reality can only be psychic, explains why it is that primitive man puts the appearance of ghosts and the effects of magic on a plane with physical events. He has not yet torn his naive experiences into their antithetical parts. In his world mind and matter still interpenetrate each other, and his gods still wander through forest and field. He is like a child, only half-born, still enclosed in a dream-state within his own psyche and the world as it actually is, a world not yet distorted by the difficulties in understanding that beset a dawning intelligence. When the primitive world disintegrated into spirit and nature, the West rescued nature for itself.
It was prone to a belief in nature, and only became the more entangled in it with every painful effort to make itself spiritual. The East, on the contrary, took mind for its own, and by explaining away matter as mere illusion (maya), continued to dream in Asiatic filth and misery. But since there is only one earth and one mankind, East and West cannot rend humanity into two different halves. Psychic reality exists in its original oneness, and awaits man’s advance to a level of consciousness where he no longer believes in the one part and denies the other, but recognizes both as constituent elements of one psyche.
We may well point to the idea of psychic reality as the most important achievement of modern psychology, though it is scarcely recognized as such. It seems to me only a question of time for this idea to be generally accepted. It must be accepted, for it alone enables us to do justice to psychic manifestations in all their variety and uniqueness. Without this idea it is unavoidable that we should explain our psychic experiences in a way that does violence to a good half of them, while with it we can give its due to that side of psychic experience which expresses itself in superstition and mythology, religion and philosophy. And this aspect of psychic life is not to be undervalued. Truth that appeals to the testimony of the senses may satisfy reason, but it offers nothing that stirs our feelings and expresses them by giving a meaning to human life.
Yet it is most often feeling that is decisive in matters of good and evil, and if feeling does not come to the aid of reason, the latter is usually powerless. Did reason and good intentions save us from the World War, or have they ever saved us from any other catastrophic nonsense? Have any of the great spiritual and social revolutions sprung from reasoning — let us say the transformation of the Græco-Roman world into the age of feudalism, or the explosive spread of Islamic culture?
As a physician I am of course not directly concerned with these world-questions; my duties lie with people who are ill. Medicine has until recently gone on the supposition that illness should be treated and cured by itself; yet voices are now heard which declare this view to be wrong, and demand the treatment of the sick person, and not of the illness.
The same demand is forced upon us in the treatment of psychic suffering. More and more we turn our attention from the visible disease and direct it upon the man as a whole. We have come to understand that psychic suffering is not a definitely localized, sharply delimited phenomenon, but rather the symptom of a wrong attitude assumed by the total personality. We can therefore not hope for a thorough cure to result from a treatment restricted to the trouble itself, but only from a treatment of the personality as a whole.
I am reminded of a case which is very instructive in this connection. It concerns a highly intelligent young man who had worked out a detailed analysis of his own neurosis after a serious study of medical literature. He brought me his findings in the form of a precise and well-written monograph fit for publication, and asked me to read the manuscript and to tell him why he was not cured. He should have been according to the verdict of science as he understood it.
After reading his monograph I was forced to grant him that, if it were only a question of insight into the causal connections of a neurosis, he should in all truth be cured. Since he was not, I supposed this must be due to the fact that his attitude to life was somehow fundamentally wrong — though I had to admit that his symptoms did not betray it. In reading his account of his life I had noticed that he often spent his winters at St. Moritz or Nice.
I therefore asked him who paid for these holidays, and it thereupon came out that a poor school-teacher who loved him had cruelly deprived herself to indulge the young man in these visits to pleasure-resorts. His want of conscience was the cause of his neurosis, and it is not hard to see why scientific understanding failed to help him. His fundamental error lay in his moral attitude. He found my way of looking at the question shockingly unscientific, for morals have nothing to do with science. He supposed that, by invoking scientific thought, he could spirit away the immorality which he himself could not stomach. He would not even admit that a conflict existed, because his mistress gave him the money of her free will.
We can take what scientific position we choose, there remains the fact that the large majority of civilized persons simply cannot tolerate such behavior. The moral attitude is a real factor in life with which the psychologist must reckon if he is not to commit the gravest errors. The psychologist must also remember that certain religious convictions not founded on reason are a necessity of life for many persons. It is again a matter of psychic realities which can cause and cure diseases. How often have I heard a patient exclaim: “If only I knew that my life had some meaning and purpose, then there would be no silly story about my nerves!”
Whether the person in question is rich or poor, has family and social position or not, alters nothing, for outer circumstances are far from giving his life a meaning. It is much more a question of his unreasoned need of what we call a spiritual life, and this he cannot obtain from universities, libraries, or even churches. He cannot accept what these have to offer because it touches only his head, and does not stir his heart. In such cases, the physician’s recognition of the spiritual factors in their true light is vitally important, and the patient’s unconscious helps him in his need by producing dreams whose contents are undeniably religious. Not to recognize the spiritual source of such contents means faulty treatment and failure.
General conceptions of a spiritual nature are indispensable constituents of psychic life. We can point them out among all peoples whose level of consciousness makes them in some degree articulate. Their relative absence or their denial by a civilized people is therefore to be regarded as a sign of degeneration.
Whereas in its development up to the present psychology has dealt chiefly with psychic processes in the light of physical causation, the future task of psychology will be the investigation of their spiritual determinants. But the natural history of the mind is no further advanced today than was natural science in the thirteenth century. We have only begun to take scientific note of our spiritual experiences.
If modern psychology can boast of having removed any of the coverings which concealed the picture of the human psyche, it is only that one which hid from the investigator its biological aspect. We may compare the present situation with the state of medicine in the sixteenth century, when people began to study anatomy but had not as yet even the faintest idea of physiology.
The spiritual aspect of the psyche is at present known to us only in a fragmentary way. We have learned that there are spiritually conditioned processes of transformation in the psyche which underlie, for example, the well-known initiation rites of primitive peoples and the states induced by the practice of Hindu yoga. But we have not yet succeeded in determining their particular uniformities or laws.
We only know that a large part of the neuroses arise from a disturbance in these processes. Psychological research has not as yet drawn aside all the many veils from the picture of the human psyche; it remains as unapproachable and obscure as all the deep secrets of life. We can speak only of what we have tried to do, and what we hope to do in the future, in the way of attempting a solution of the great riddle. ~Carl Jung.
(Source: Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933. Published by Routledge & Kegan Paul, translated by Cary Baynes. Reproduced here, Chapter IX, The Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology.)