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Carl Jung on “Cognition of the Whole.”

999 cognition

Letters Volume II

Best thanks for your friendly letter.

Unfortunately I can answer only one central question, that concerning consciousness and self.

By definition, the self is a combination of consciousness and the Unconscious and is therefore more comprehensive than the ego.

Only what is associated with the ego can become conscious.

But since the ego is only a part of the whole, I can become conscious only of a part.

The whole can be comprehended only by a whole.

Therefore, when the self qua whole grasps something, it grasps the whole.

But this whole is much too big for the ego to grasp.

It can only be divined, but this is not cognition.

I can become conscious neither of the whole of myself nor of the whole of the world.

I know that the East believes in a consciousness without a subject and says that the personal atman is capable of encompassing the knowledge of the whole.

Nevertheless the East also says that dreamless sleep is the highest stage of cognition.

For us this is an inconceivable paradox because dreamless sleep is, for us, the epitome of an unconscious state in which no consciousness exists, as we understand it.

Empirically, we do not know what happens in this state, since there is no subject to cognize it, at least for us.

On the contrary, I must admit that as my cognition is piecemeal and that my ego is far from being able to cognize a whole.

Also, I have never discovered, either in the literature or in conversation with an Oriental, any cognition that could be said to be a cognition of the whole.

It is merely said to be so, just as we Christians say that we are redeemed of our sins by Christ.

Unfortunately I haven’t yet noticed anything of the sort, any more than I have noticed a cognition of the self as subject.

Hoping I have made my standpoint clear, and with collegial regards,

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 523-524