The essays collected together in this little volume were written over a period of thirty years, the first in 1902 and the last in 1932.
The reason why I am bringing them out together is that all three are concerned with certain borderline problems of the human psyche, the question of the soul’s existence after death.
The first essay gives an account of a young somnambulistic girl who claimed to be in communication with the spirits of the departed.
The second essay deals with the problem of dissociation and “part-souls” (or splinter-personalities).
The third discusses the psychology of the belief in immortality and the possibility of the continued existence of the soul after death.
The point of view I have adopted is that of modern empirical psychology and the scientific method.
Although these essays deal with subjects which usually fall within the province of philosophy or theology, it would be a mistake to suppose that psychology is concerned with the metaphysical nature of the problem of immortality.
Psychology cannot establish any metaphysical “truths,” nor does it try to.
It is concerned solely with the phenomenology of the psyche.
The idea of immortality is a psychic phenomenon that is disseminated over the whole earth.
Every “idea” is, from the psychological point of view, a phenomenon, just as is “philosophy” or “theology.”
For modern psychology, ideas are entities, like animals and plants.
The scientific method consists in the description of nature.
All mythological ideas are essentially real, and far older than any philosophy.
Like our knowledge of physical nature, they were originally perceptions and experiences.
In so far as such ideas are universal, they are symptoms or characteristics or normal exponents of psychic life, which are naturally present and need no proof of their “truth.”
The only question we can profitably discuss is whether they are universal or not.
If they are universal, they belong to the natural constituents and normal structure of the psyche.
And if by any chance they are not encountered in the conscious mind of a given individual, then they are present in the unconscious and the case is an abnormal one.
The fewer of these universal ideas are found in consciousness, the more of them there will be in the unconscious, and the greater will be their influence on the conscious mind.
This state of things already bears some resemblance to a neurotic disturbance.
It is normal to think about immortality, and abnormal not to do so or not to bother about it. If everybody eats salt, then that
is the normal thing to do, and it is abnormal not to.
But this tells us nothing about the “rightness” of eating salt or of the idea of immortality.
That is a question which strictly speaking has nothing to do with psychology.
Immortality cannot be proved any more than can the existence of God, either philosophically or empirically.
We know that salt is indispensable for our physiological health.
We do not eat salt for this reason, however, but because food with salt in it tastes better.
We can easily imagine that long before there was any philosophy human beings had instinctively found out what ideas were necessary for the normal functioning of the psyche.
Only a rather stupid mind will try to go beyond that, and to venture an opinion on whether immortality does or does not exist.
This question cannot be asked for the simple reason that it cannot be discussed.
More important, it misses the essential point, which is the functional value of the idea as such.
If a person does not “believe” in salt, it is up to the doctor to tell him that salt is necessary for physiological health.
Equally, it seems to me that the doctor of the soul should not go along with the fashionable stupidities but should remind his patient what the normal structural elements of the psyche are.
For reasons of psychic hygiene, it would be better not to forget these original and universal ideas; and wherever they have disappeared, from neglect
or intellectual bigotry, we should reconstruct them as quickly as we can regardless of “philosophical” proofs for or against (which are impossible anyway). In general, the heart seems to have a more reliable memory for what benefits the psyche than does the head, which has a rather unhealthy tendency to lead an “abstract” existence, and easily forgets that its consciousness is snuffed out the moment the heart fails in its duty.
Ideas are not just counters used by the calculating mind; they are also golden vessels full of living feeling. “Freedom” is not a mere abstraction, it is also an emotion.
Reason becomes unreason when separated from the heart, and a psychic life void of universal ideas sickens from undernourishment.
The Buddha said: “These four are the foodstuffs, ye bhikkus, which sustain the creatures that are born, and benefit the creatures that seek rebirth. The first is edible food, coarse or fine ; touch is the second ; the thinking capacity of the mind is the third; and the fourth is consciousness. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 309-311