Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

Lecture I 20th October, 1933

Psychology did not suddenly spring into existence, one could say that it is as old as civilization itself.

The ancient science of astrology, which has always appeared in the wake of culture all over the world, is a kind of psychology and alchemy is another unconscious form.

In such forms, however, the psyche is seen as entirely outside man, it is projected into the stars or into matter ; but I do not intend at present to speak of those days.

In this short introduction to “Modern Psychology” I shall take you back only to its first conscious beginnings.

Psychology proper appears with the dawn of the age of enlightenment at the end of the XVIIth century and we will follow its development briefly through a long line of philosophers and scientists who made the manifestations of the psyche their field of study.

In the works of Descartes (1596-1650) the psyche is still held to be thinking directed by the will. In his time, the whole of scientific interest flowed outward to the concrete object.

The external world was thoroughly explored, but no one looked inwards.

The soul was assumed to be known and everything concerning it was left to the care of religion.

Psychological phenomena occurred only within the framework of the Church, – as mystical realities and religious experiences.

All psychic manifestations took place within the dogmatic symbol and as long as this symbol remained a living thing, in which man felt completely contained, there were no psychological problems.

This was the case for the whole of Europe up till the first half of the XIXth century and this condition still remains undisturbed
for those who feel secure in a living effective religious form.

At the time when the great navigators were discovering new continents, something which could no longer be contained in the dogmatic symbol, freed itself, and the result of this unseen event was the Renaissance.

This cultural phenomenon reveals a psychological problem which found expression as early as 1467, for instance, in Francesco Colonna’s book “Hypnerotomachia” (literally love-dream-conflict).

This document gives a true picture of the secret psychology of the Renaissance.

It is significant that it should have been written by a monk and expressed in pagan form, for this is a characteristic symptom of a whole age.

Colonna’s work was translated into French at the end of the XVIth century by Beroalde de Verville under the title of “Le Songe de Poliphile”

The story was much admire d at the time and was even thought to be a divine revelation, but later it fell into disrepute and was dismissed as nonsense.

This early psychological document was written round the monk’s love for a certain Dame Polia.

The scene opens in the Black Forest, a dragon bars his path and he meets with many adventures before he reaches fulfilment on a blessed
island with Dame Polia.

Under the cloak of this allegory the monk describes a descent into the underworld of the psyche.

Dame Polia held something for him which he could not find in the Madonna.

When we come to the philosophers, who took the path of psychological discovery and who became the founders of this comparatively modern science, we
find that they were almost without exception Protestants.

In earlier days the healing of the psyche was regarded as Christ’s prerogative, the task belonged to religion, for we suffered then only as part of a collective suffering.

It is a new point of view to look up on the individual psyche as a whole with its own individual suffering.

The Protestant is the natural seeker in the field of psychological research, for he no longer has a symbol in which he can express himself and
therefore his sense of incompleteness makes him restless and pushes him to search for what he feels to be missing.

In this attempt he often reaches out to other faiths, such as theosophy, Christian Science, Buddhism etc.

“Why does my spiritual life no longer satisfy me?” is particularly the problem of the Protestant; he thinks that it should but the fact remains that it does not and that he is often troubled with neurotic symptoms.

Psychology, therefore, is primarily the concern of the Protestant, the sceptic – and the doctor.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) was the first of the philosophers to be concerned with what we now call psychology.

His theory is that of the so-called “petite perception” or “perception insensible”.

The word “perception” means representation here, for a “perception” is at the same time a subjectively coloured representation or picture.

As an example of the existence of “perceptions insensibles”,

Leibnitz gives his experiment with blue and yellow powder.

When they have been insufficiently mixed the blue and yellow grains are still perceptible but when, however, the operation has been carried out thoroughly the powder appears to be green although it is still composed of blue and yellow grains: it looks green but is blue and yellow.

Leibnitz tried to find a psychological meaning to his experiments and sought to make analogies to similar processes which take place in the human mind: “something happens in me of which I am not aware”.

Our daily life abounds in concrete psychological examples of Leibnitz’ “unconscious perceptions” as illustrated by the above experiment.

These are the many things we do unconsciously.

We look, for instance, at our watch, but we have to consult it again if asked the time a minute later, yet we perceived it unconsciously.

There are other cases, such as riding a bicycle, where the process is almost wholly unconscious and if, while actually bicycling, we suddenly become aware of the unconscious perceptions by which we keep our balance, it may prove directly dangerous.

Over and against the “petites perceptions” Leibnitz sees the principle of the intellect or the idea, he recognizes that ideas are born in us and says: “c’est ainsi que les idees et les verites nous sont innees comme des inclinations, des dispositions, des habitudes ou des virtualites”.

The “perceptions” are the opportunities and causes by which the inborn ideas and dispositions can be made conscious.

Leibnitz’ ideas, which came very close to modern psychology, remained latent for a very long time as is often the case with ideas when the time is not yet ripe for them.

Christian August Wolff (1679-1754) differs from his great predecessor by his completely rational approach; he remains in the conscious.

In his works we find the beginnings of empirical psychology.

Wolff’s psychology consists of two parts:

  1. Empirical psychology, which lays special stress on the faculty of cognition.

  2. Specific psychology, which is concerned with the desires and inter-relations of body and soul.

In other words, the psyche has the faculties of representation, desire and cognition, yet thinking is the essence of the psyche.

Wolff’s psychology is one of the first psychologies based on experience.

Johann Nicolaus Tetens (1736-1805) is the real originator of experimental, physiological psychology, influenced by the English physiological approach which Hartley represents.

Tetens is the first to measure the sensations of light,-hearing and touch .

His altogether empirical attitude is very modern and he looks up on all systems as mere hypotheses which have yet to be proved. Carl Jung, ETH Lecture I, 20Oct1933, Pages 11-13.