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Carl Jung: “Telepathy,” “precognition,” etc. are mere concepts (words) and explain nothing.


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Letters Volume II

To A. D. Cornell

Dear Mr. Cornell, 9 February 1960

Your interest in the origin of Psi-activity brings you face to face with a problem of the first order.

The only thing we know positively in this respect is that experimentally verifiable Psi-phenomena are conditioned by a psychological factor, namely the stimulus of novelty, which is responsible for the good results obtained in the beginning of Rhine’s laboratory experiments and their decrease upon repetition.

It is important to remember that novelty represents an emotional situation (beginner’s luck).

Outside the laboratory, too, synchronistic phenomena occur for the most part in emotional situations; for instance, in cases of death, sickness, accident, and so on.

During the psychotherapeutic treatment of neuroses and psychoses we observe them relatively frequently at moments of heightened emotional tension, which need not however be conscious.

Emotions have a typical “pattern” (fear, anger, sorrow, hatred, etc.); that is, they follow an inborn archetype which is universally human and arouses the same ideas and feelings in everyone.

These “patterns” appear as archetypal motifs chiefly in dreams.

The majority of synchronistic phenomena thus occur in archetypal situations such as are connected with risks, dangers, fateful developments, etc., and they manifest themselves in the form of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and so forth.

In Rhine’s case the experimental set-up is influenced by the expectation of a miracle. A miracle is an archetypal situation which is accompanied by a corresponding emotion.

The investigation of a great number of synchronistic phenomena has convinced me that at least one of their most frequent prerequisites is the presence of an active archetype.

An archetypal dream may follow the critical event or even precede it (without being its cause in the latter case).

In cases of telepathy it might be possible under some circumstances to give a causal explanation, but in the case of precognition this is out of the question.

“Telepathy,” “precognition,” etc. are mere concepts (words) and explain nothing.

The only explanatory factor we can establish with some certainty is the almost regular, or at least very frequent, simultaneous emergence of an archetype, or rather, of an emotion corresponding to it.

One of the commonest symptoms of the presence of an archetype is its connection with religious ideas and convictions.

Two roads for further investigation exist: . experiment, and 2. the study of case material.

  1. Under certain conditions it is possible to experiment with archetypes,as my “astrological experiment” has shown.

As a matter of fact we had begun such experiments at the C . G. Jung Institute in Zurich, using the historically known intuitive, i.e., synchronistic Methods (astrology, geomancy, Tarot cards, and the I Ching).

But we had too few co-workers and too little means, so we could not go on and had to stop.

  1. This would require the observation of individual cases of death, severe illness, and serious accidents, together with a careful analysis of the concomitant psychological situations.

Some work along these lines has already been done in Zurich but it is far from sufficient.

Research of this kind requires teamwork and money, and we have neither at present.

Above all, superior intelligence and psychological competence are needed.

Both are hard to find.

Paranormal psychic phenomena have interested me all my life.

Usually, as I have said, they occur in acute psychological states (emotionality, depression, shock, etc.), or, more frequently, with individuals characterized by a peculiar or pathological personality structure, where the threshold to the collective unconscious is habitually lowered.

People with a creative genius also belong to this type.

Experience has shown that the so-called Psi-faculty occurs as a spontaneous phenomenon and is not a regular function or quality of the psyche.

One can count on its “regularity” only when the observations are based on very large numbers of cases, as in Rhine’s experiments.

In Psi-phenomena the psyche apperceives definite impressions through the usual channels of the senses: seeing, hearing, touch, and en do psychic perception (intuition).

The “miracle” does not consist in the process of perception itself but rather in the event perceived.

In other words, I perceive with my normal senses and the object of my perception is an objective event.

Nevertheless it is an inexplicable event, for within the framework of our physical premises we could not have counted upon its happening.

The problem has already been posed in this form by Geulincx, Leibniz, and Schopenhauer.

What I mean is that a telepathically perceived event-a vision, let us say-is not the product of a telepathic faculty but rather that the outer event occurs simultaneously inside the psyche and reaches consciousness by the usual pathways of inner perception.

However, it is not always possible to determine whether a primary inner process is accompanied by an outer one or whether, conversely, a primary outer event is being reflected in a secondary inner process. To give an example:

Two English society ladies, sisters, were sitting by the fire one evening.

Both were indignant and filled with hatred because of an inheritance which, contrary to their expectations, had not been left to them.

It was a matter of an old family mansion with a title attached and a large landed estate.

The inheritance had gone instead to a distant cousin, and both sisters were convinced that this was unjust.

Suddenly one of them proposed that they should make an “image”
of the heir.

This they did together.

They shaped it like a wax doll and then, in accordance with ancient custom, threw it into the fire.

That same night the mansion was burned to the ground.

If we disregard the hypothesis that this was “chance” which explains nothing), we have here an example of synchronicity in which the inner image was probably primary, though it could easily be the other way round.

But in either case there was no observable causality.

Hence the “magical” hypothesis arises: Either the doll set fire to the mansion (but how?), or the fire kindled the fantasy of the sisters (but how?)

My emphasis-as in all such cases-lies on the reality of the event,not on its having been perceived.

This point of view accords with the hypothesis of an acausal connection, i.e., a non-spatial and non-temporal conditioning of events.

Since causality is not an axiomatic but a statistical truth, there must be exceptions in which time and space appear to be relative, otherwise the truth would not be statistical.

On this epistemological basis one must conclude that the possibility does exist of observing non-spatial and non-temporal events-the very phenomena which we actually do observe contrary to all expectations and which we are now discussing.

In my view, therefore, it is not our perception which is necessarily para- or supranormal but the event itself.

This, however, is not “miraculous” but merely “extra-ordinary” and unexpected, and then only from our biased standpoint which takes causality as axiomatic.

From the statistical standpoint, of course, it is simply a matter of random phenomena, but from a truly realistic standpoint they are actual and significant facts.

Exceptions are just as real as probabilities.

The premise of probability simultaneously postulates the existence of the improbable.

Wherever and whenever the collective unconscious (the basis of our psyche) comes into play, the possibility arises that something will happen which contradicts our rationalistic prejudices.

Our consciousness performs a selective function and is itself the product of selection, whereas the collective unconscious is simply Nature-and since Nature contains everything it also contains the unknown.

It is beyond truth and error, independent of the interference of consciousness, and therefore often completely at odds with the intentions and attitudes of the ego.

So far as we can see, the collective unconscious is identical with Nature to the extent that Nature herself, including matter, is unknown to us.

I have nothing against the assumption that the psyche is a quality of matter or matter the concrete aspect of the psyche, provided that “psyche” is defined as the collective unconscious.

In my opinion the collective unconscious is the preconscious aspect of things on the “animal” or instinctive level of the psyche.

Everything that is stated or manifested by the psyche is an expression of the nature of things, whereof man is a part.

Just as in physics we cannot observe nuclear processes directly, so there can be no direct observation of the contents of the collective unconscious.

In both cases their actual nature can be inferred only from their effects-just as the trajectory of a nuclear particle in a Wilson chamber can be traced only by observing the condensation trail that follows its movement and thus makes it visible.

In practice we observe the archetypal “traces” primarily in dreams, where they become perceptible as psychic forms.

But this is not the only way they reach perception: they can appear objectively and concretely in the form of physical facts just as well.

In this case the observation is not an endopsychic perception (fantasy, intuition, vision, hallucination, etc.) but a real outer object which behaves as if it were motivated or evoked by, or as if it were expressing, a thought corresponding to the archetype.

Take for instance my case of the scarab: at the moment my patient was telling me her dream a real “scarab” tried to get into the room, as if it had understood that it must play its mythological role as a symbol of rebirth.

Even inanimate objects behave occasionally in the same way-meteorological phenomena, for instance.

Since I assume that our instincts (i.e., archetypes) are biological facts and not arbitrary opinions, I do not believe that synchronistic (or Psi- ) phenomena are due to any supranormal (psychic) faculties but rather that they are bound to occur under certain conditions if space, time, and causality are not axiomatic but merely statistical truths.

They occur spontaneously and not because we think we possess a special faculty for perceiving them.

For this reason I do not think in terms of concepts like “telepathy,” “precognition,” or “psychokinesis.”

In the same way, the archetype is not evoked by a conscious act of the will; experience shows that it is activated, independently of the will, in a psychic situation that needs compensating by an archetype.

One might even speak of a spontaneous archetypal intervention.

The language of religion calls these happenings “God’s will”-quite correctly in so far as this refers to the peculiar behaviour of the archetype, its spontaneity and its functional relation to the actual situation.

The situation may be indicative of illness or danger to life, for instance.

Consciousness feels such a situation to be overwhelming in so far as it knows no way of meeting it effectively.

In this predicament, even people who can boast of no particular religious belief find themselves compelled by fear to utter a fervent prayer: the archetype of a “helpful divine being” is constellated by their submission and may eventually intervene with an unexpected influx of strength, or an unforeseen saving impulse, producing at the last moment a turn in the threatening situation which is felt to be miraculous.

Such crises have occurred countless times in human history.

They are the lot of man, who is exposed to the vicissitudes of Nature and constantly gets into situations where he must call on instinct because his reason fails.

Instinct appears in myths and in dreams as the motif of the helpful animal, the guardian spirit, the good angel, the helper in need, the saint, saviour, etc. “God is nearest where the need is greatest.”

An “instinct” warns birds and quadrupeds of impending catastrophes, and even humans are sometimes gifted with second sight.

Emergencies of other kinds, as we know from experience, evoke the archetypes that correspond to them.

Hence the archetype has a compensatory effect, as do most of our more important dreams.

Because of its ubiquity, the archetype can by its very nature manifest itself not only in the individual directly concerned but in another person or even in several people at once-for instance in parallel dreams, the “transmission” of which should be regarded more as a Psi-phenomenon than anything else.

Similarly, collective psychoses are based on a constellated archetype, though of course this fact is not taken into account at all.

In this respect our attitude is still characterized by a prodigious Unconsciousness.

I must add, however, that I have observed and also partially analysed people who seemed to possess a supranormal faculty and were able to make use of it at will.

But the apparently supranormal faculty consisted in their already being in, or voluntarily putting themselves into, a state corresponding to an archetypal constellation-a state of numinous possession in which synchronistic phenomena become possible and even, to some extent, probable.

This faculty was clearly coupled with a religious attitude which enabled them to give suitable expression to their sense of the ego’s subordination to the archetype.

In one such case I predicted a catastrophic end if the patient Abandoned this attitude.

He did and he actually lost his life.

The religious tendency is obvious enough in nearly all serious-minded Mediums.

As a rule they cannot exploit their “art” for egoistic purposes; and this proves that their faculty is not subject to the will of the ego but owes its existence rather to the overriding dominance of the unconscious.

I therefore think it would be advisable to consider Psi-phenomena in the first place as sua sponte facts and not as supranormal perceptions.

The uncertainty of their relation to time and space does not necessarily depend on a supranormality of our perceptions but rather on the relativity and only partial validity of time and space categories.

Most of the cases of Psi-perception are due to the presence of a Constellated archetype, which produces an abaissement du niveau mental (numinosity, emotion).

Under such a condition unconscious contents become manifest, i.e., can be perceived by the normal sense organs.

Thus, for example, psychokinesis or extrusions of ectoplasm are objective facts and not intuitions or hallucinations.

The medium producing these effects is in a markedly passive state (trance), which shows that an abaissement-the elimination of consciously controlled psychic activity-is needed in order to give spontaneous phenomena a chance.

Hence the universal belief that “spiritual agencies” are at work-agents that do not coincide with the conscious psyche.

The phenomena may be purely psychic or of a material nature too.

This latter fact is an indication that “psyche” and “matter” are not basically incommensurable, but may perhaps be qualities of one and the same existential being.

Hoping I have made myself understandable,

I remain,

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 537-543

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