When, after many years, I again took up the works of Carl Ludwig Schleich and tried to capture the mental world of this remarkable thinker in a telling image, what persistently came into my mind was the indelible impression which another powerful thinker—very unlike Schleich and yet so very like him—had made upon me: Paracelsus.
Odd bedfellows indeed—the contemporary of the humanists and the modern, forward-looking Schleich, separated by four centuries of spiritual growth and change, not to speak of differences of personality.
The very idea would have struck me as preposterous had I not been strangely moved just by the affinity of opposites.
Above all, it seemed to me significant that Paracelsus stood at the beginning of an epoch in the history of medicine and Schleich at its end.
Both were typical representatives of a period of transition, and both of them revolutionaries.
Paracelsus cleared the way for scientific medicine, benighted at times by age-old animistic beliefs yet filled with the liveliest apprehension of an age in which the intangibles of the soul would be replaced by a massive materialism.
Schleich was a revolutionary in the opposite sense.
Although steeped in anatomical and physiological concepts, he boldly reached out towards the very same psychic realm upon which Paracelsus, obeying the dictates of his age, had half-reluctantly turned his back.
Both were enthusiasts, uplifted and fortified by the certitudes of their vision, optimistically credulous, rejoicing in their hopes, pioneers of a new spiritual outlook who went their head-spinning way sure-footed and undismayed.
Both, gazed fearlessly into suprahuman, metaphysical abysses and both avowed their faith in the eternal images deeply engraved in the human psyche.
Paracelsus’ way took him down to the divine but essentially pre-Christian prima materia, the “Hyliaster.”
Schleich, starting from the darkness of the blood vessels, ducts, and the labyrinth of the nerve-endings, mounted the ganglionic ladder of the sympathetic nervous system to a transcendental soul which appeared to him in all its Platonic glory in the “supracelestial place.”
Both were inspired by the effervescence of an age of decay and change.
Both were born out of their time, eccentric figures eyed askance by their contemporaries.
One’s contemporaries are always dense and never understand that enthusiasm, and what appears to them to be unseemly ebullience come less from personal temperament than from the still unknown well-springs of a new age.
How people looked askance at Nietzsche’s volcanic emotion, and how long he will be spoken of in times to come!
Even Paracelsus has now been gratefully disinterred after four hundred years in an attempt to resuscitate him in modern dress.
What will happen with Schleich?
We know that he was aiming at that unitary vision of psychic and physical processes which has given the strongest impetus to medical and biological research today.
Though hampered by a terminology inherited from an age of scientific materialism, he broke through the narrow confines of a de-psychized materiality and crossed the threshold, barricaded with thorny prejudices, which separated the soul from the body.
And though he had no knowledge of my own efforts, which for a long time remained unknown to the scientific public in Germany, in his own way he fought shoulder to shoulder with me for the recognition of the soul as a factor sui generis, and thus broke a new path for psychology, which till then had been condemned to get along without a psyche.
The breakthrough initiated by Paracelsus led the way out of medieval scholasticism into the then unknown world of matter.
This is the great and essential service which has placed medicine forever in his debt.
And it is not isolated facts, methods, or laws which make Schleich important for us, but his pushing forward into a new field of vision where the mass of known facts appears in a new and different light.
By syncretizing all our previous knowledge and seeking a standpoint from which to gain a view of the whole, he succeeded in escaping from the charmed circle of pure empiricism and touched upon the very foundation of the empirical method itself, though most people are quite unaware of it.
This fundamental thing is the relation of the body’s chemistry to psychic life.
Paracelsus ultimately decided in favour of “chemism,” despite his allegiance to a view of the world dominated by the spirit as the highest authority.
Schleich, four hundred years later, decided in favour
of psychic animation, and thus raised the psyche from its undignified position as a subsidiary product to that of the auctor rerum.
With a bold stroke he put the mechanisms and chemisms of the body in a new hierarchy.
The “vestigial’ sympathetic nervous system, an apparently fortuitous tangle of ganglionic nodes that regulate the vegetative functions of the body in an astoundingly purposive way, becomes the matrix of the cerebrospinal system, whose crowning miracle, the brain, seems to our fascinated gaze the controller of all bodily processes.
Nay more: the sympathetic system is, for Schleich, the mysterious “cosmic nerve,” the true “ideoplast,” the original and most immediate realization of a body-building and body-sustaining World Soul, which was there before mind and body came into existence.
The Hyliaster of Paracelsus is thus stripped of its unfathomable creative secret.
Once again the solidity and tangibility of matter, so fervently believed in and so convincing to the senses, dissolve into Maya, into a mere emanation of primordial thought and will, and all hierarchies and all values are reversed.
The intangible, the psyche, becomes the ground and substrate, and the “merely vegetative” sympathetic system the possessor and realizer of unthinkable creative secrets, the vehicle of the life-giving World Soul, and, ultimately, the architect of the brain, this newest achievement of the pre-existent creative will.
What lay modestly hidden beneath the overwhelming grandeur of the cerebrospinal system, which, as the vehicle of consciousness, seems to be identical with the psyche as such—this same sympathetic system is “psyche” in a deeper and more embracing sense than is the interplay of the
cortical fields of the cerebrum.
Notwithstanding its quantitative and qualitative insignificance, it is the exponent of a psyche far excelling consciousness both in depth and scope, and is not, like this, defencelessly exposed to the potions of the endocrine system, but itself creates these magical secretions with single-minded purposiveness.
Just as Paracelsus laboured to concoct sylphids and succubi out of mandrakes, hangman’s amulets, and the blackest folk-medicine in his alchemical retort while yet having intimations of the truth, so Schleich spoke the language of the best “brain mythology” of the pre-war era and yet penetrated into the deepest problems and symbols of the human psyche, following his inner intuition and without knowing what he was doing.
His soaring imagination transmuted figures of speech into forms which, unbeknownst to him, are actually archetypes of the collective unconscious that manifest
themselves wherever introspection seeks to plumb the depths of the psyche, as for instance in Indian and Chinese yoga.
Schleich was thus a pioneer not only in somatic medicine but also in the remoter reaches of psychology, where it coalesces with the vegetative processes of the body.
This is without doubt the darkest area of all, which scientific research has long sought to elucidate in vain.
It is just this darkness which fascinated Schleich’s mind and let loose a spate of imaginative ideas.
Though they were not based on any new facts, they will certainly stimulate new interpretations and new modes of observation.
As the history of science shows, the progress of knowledge does not always consist in the discovery of facts but, just as often, in opening up new lines of inquiry and in formulating hypothetical points of view.
One of Schleich’s favourite ideas was that of a psyche spread through the whole of the body, and dependent more on the blood than on grey matter.
This is a brilliant notion of incalculable import.
It enabled him to reach certain conclusions as to the way in which the psychic processes are determined, and these conclusions have independently
confirmed my own research work.
I am thinking chiefly of the historical factors determining the psychic background, as formulated in my theory of the collective unconscious.
The same might be said of the mysterious connections between the psyche and the geographical locality, which Schleich linked up with dietetic differences-a possibility that should not be dismissed out of hand.
When one considers the remarkable psychic and biological changes to which European immigrants are subject in America, one cannot help feeling that in this matter science has still a number of important problems to solve.
Although Schleich’s thought and language were wholly dependent on the data of the body, he was nevertheless impressed by the incorporeal nature of the psyche.
What struck him about dreams was their spacelessness and timelessness, and for him hysteria was a “metaphysical problem”—metaphysical because the “ideoplastic” capacities of the unconscious psyche were nowhere more palpably in evidence than in the neuroses.
Marvelling he gazed at the bodily changes wrought by the unconscious in hysteria.
One can see from this almost childlike amazement how new and unexpected such
observations were for him, although for the psychopathologist they have long been truisms.
But one also sees from what generation of medical men he came—a generation blinded by prejudice, that passed unheedingly by the workings of the psyche upon the body, and even with its first, groping steps in psychology believed that the psyche could be dispensed with.
Considering this lack of psychological knowledge, it is all the more astonishing and greatly to Schleich’s credit that he was able to break through to a recognition of the psyche and to a complete reversal of biological causality.
His conclusions seem almost too radical to the psychologist, or at any rate over-audacious, since they trespass upon regions which philosophical criticism must put beyond the bounds of human understanding.
Schleich’s limited knowledge of psychology and his enthusiasm for intuitive speculation are responsible for a certain lack of reflection and for the occasional shallow patches in his work, for instance, his blindness to the psychic processes in dreams, which he sees through the spectacles of materialistic prejudice.
Again, there is no inkling of the philosophical and moral problems that are conjured up by his identification of conscience with the function of hormones.
Schleich thus paid tribute to the scientific past and to the spirit of the Wilhelmine era, when the authority of science swelled into blind presumption and the intellect turned into a ravening beast.
But he saw very clearly that if medicine considered only the body and had no eyes for the living man, it was doomed to stultification.
For this reason he turned away from the investigation of mere facts and used his knowledge of biology for wider purposes, to construct a bold synoptic view which would eradicate the grave errors of an obsolete materialism.
The nineteenth century did everything it could to bring the psyche into disrepute, and it is Schleich’s great achievement to have thrust the psychic meaning of vital processes into the light of day.
His works may serve as an introduction to the revolution that has taken place in our general outlook and extricated us from the straitjacket of academic specialism. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 462-464