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Zarathustra Seminars

Our new method treats the dream as a spontaneous product of the psyche about which there is no previous assumption except that it somehow makes sense.

This is no more than every science assumes, namely that its object is worthy of investigation.

No matter how low one’s opinion of the unconscious may be, the unconscious is at least on a level with the louse, which, after all, enjoys the honest interest of the entomologist.

As to the alleged boldness of the hypothesis that an unconscious psyche exists, I must emphasize that a more modest formulation could hardly be imagined.

It is so simple that it amounts to a tautology: a content of consciousness disappears and cannot be reproduced.

The best we can say of it is: the thought (or whatever it was) has become unconscious, or is cut off from consciousness, so that it cannot even be remembered.

Or else it may happen that we have an inkling or hunch of something which is about to break into consciousness: “something is in the air,” “we smell a rat,” and so on.

To speak under these conditions of latent or unconscious contents is hardly a daring hypothesis.

When something vanishes from consciousness it does not dissolve into thin air or cease to exist, any more than a car disappearing round a corner becomes non-existent.

It is simply out of sight, and, as we may meet the car again, so we may come across a thought again which was previously lost.

We find the same thing with sensation, as the following experiment proves.

If you produce a continuous note on the edge of audibility, you will observe in listening to it that at regular intervals it is audible and inaudible.

These oscillations are due to a periodic increase and decrease of attention.

The note never ceases to exist with static intensity.

It is merely the decrease of attention that causes its apparent disappearance.

The unconscious, therefore, consists in the first place of a multitude of temporarily eclipsed contents which, as experience shows, continue to influence the conscious processes.

A man in a distracted state of mind goes to a certain place in his room, obviously to fetch something.

Then he suddenly stops perplexed: he has forgotten why he got up and what he was after.

He gropes absent-mindedly among a whole collection of objects, completely at sea as to what he wants to find.

Suddenly he wakes up, having discovered the thing he wants.

He behaves like a man walking in his sleep oblivious of his original purpose, yet  unconsciously guided by it.

If you observe the behaviour of a neurotic, you can see him performing apparently conscious and purposeful acts yet, when you ask him about them, you discover to your surprise that he is either unconscious of them or has something quite different in mind.

He hears and does not hear, he sees yet is blind, he knows and does not know at the same time.

Thousands of such observations have convinced the specialist that unconscious contents behave as if they were conscious, and that you can never be sure whether thought, speech, or action is conscious or not.

Something so obvious to yourself that you cannot imagine it to be invisible to anybody can be as good as nonexistent to your fellows, and yet they behave as if they were just as conscious of it as you are yourself.

This kind of behaviour has given rise to the medical prejudice that hysterical patients are confirmed liars.

Yet the surplus of lies they seem to produce is due to the uncertainty of their  ental state, to the dissociability of their consciousness, which is liable to unpredictable eclipses, just as their skin shows unexpected and changing areas of anaesthesia.

There is no certainty whether a needle-prick will be registered or not.

If their attention can be focused on a certain point, the whole surface of their body may be completely anaesthetized, and, when attention relaxes, sense-perception is instantly restored.

Moreover when one hypnotizes such cases one can easily demonstrate that they are aware of everything that has been done in an anaesthetized area or during an eclipse of consciousness.

They can remember every detail just as if they had been fully conscious during the experiment.

I recall a similar case of a woman who was admitted to the clinic in a state of complete stupor.

Next day when she came to, she knew who she was, but did not know where she was nor how or why she had come there, nor did she know the date.

I hypnotized her, and she could tell me a verifiable story of why she fell ill, how she had got to the clinic, and who had received her, with all the details.

As there was a clock in the entrance hall, though not in a very conspicuous place, she could also remember the time of her admission to the minute.

Everything happened as if she had been in a completely normal condition and not deeply unconscious.

It is true that the bulk of our evidential material comes from clinical observation.

That is the reason why many critics assume that the unconscious and its manifestations belong to the sphere of psychopathology as neurotic or psychotic symptoms and that they do not occur in a normal mental state.

But, as has been pointed out long ago, neurotic phenomena are not by any means the exclusive products of disease.

They are as a matter of fact normal occurrences pathologically exaggerated, and therefore just more obvious than their normal parallels.

One can indeed observe all hysterical symptoms in a diminutive form in normal individuals, but they are so slight that they usually pass unnoticed.

In this respect, everyday life is a mine of evidential material.

Just as conscious contents can vanish into the unconscious, other contents can also arise from it.

Besides a majority of mere recollections, really new thoughts and creative ideas can appear which have never been conscious before.

They grow up from the dark depths like a lotus, and they form an important part of the subliminal psyche.

This aspect of the unconscious is of particular relevance in dealing with dreams.

One must always bear in mind that dream material does not necessarily consist of memories; it may just as well contain new thoughts that are not yet conscious.

Forgetting is a normal process, in which certain conscious contents lose their specific energy through a deflection of attention.

When interest turns elsewhere, it leaves former contents in the shadow, just as a searchlight illuminates a new area by leaving another to disappear in the darkness.

This is unavoidable, for consciousness can keep only a few images in full clarity at one time, and even this clarity fluctuates, as I have mentioned.

“Forgetting” may be defined as temporarily subliminal contents remaining outside the range of vision against one’s will.

But the forgotten contents have not ceased to exist.

Although they cannot be reproduced they are present in a subliminal state, from which they can rise up spontaneously at any time, often after many years of apparently total oblivion, or they can be fetched back by hypnosis.

Besides normal forgetting, there are the cases described by Freud of disagreeable memories which one is only too ready to lose.

As Nietzsche has remarked, when pride is insistent enough, memory prefers to give way.

Thus among the list of memories we encounter not a few that owe their subliminal state (and their incapacity to be reproduced at will) to their disagreeable and incompatible nature.

These are the repressed contents.

As a parallel to normal forgetting, subliminal sense-perceptions should be mentioned, because they play a not unimportant role in our daily life.

We see, hear, smell and taste many things without noticing them at the time, either because our attention is deflected or because the stimulus is too slight to produce a conscious impression.

But in spite of their apparent non-existence they can influence consciousness.

A well-known example is the case of the professor walking in the country with a pupil, deep in serious conversation.

Suddenly he notices that his thoughts are interrupted by an unexpected flow of memories from his early childhood.

He cannot account for it, as he is unable to discover any associative connection with the subject of his conversation.

He stops and looks back: there at a little distance is a farm, through which they had passed a short while ago, and he remembers that soon afterwards images of his childhood began to surge up.

“Let us go back to the farm,” he says to his pupil; “it must be about there that my fantasies started.”

Back at the farm, the professor notices the smell of geese.

Instantly he recognizes it as the cause of the interruption: in his early youth he had lived on a farm where there were geese, whose characteristic smell had formed a lasting impression and caused the reproduction of the memory-images.

He had noticed the smell while passing the farmyard, subliminally, and the unconscious perception had called back long-forgotten memories.

This example illustrates how the subliminal perception released early childhood memories, the energic tension of which proved to be strong enough to interrupt the conversation.

The perception was subliminal because the attention was engaged elsewhere, and the stimulus was not strong enough to deflect it and to reach consciousness directly.

Such phenomena are frequent in everyday life, but mostly they pass unnoticed.

A relatively rare but all the more astonishing phenomenon that falls into the same category is cryptomnesia, or the “concealed recollection.”

It consists in the fact that suddenly, mostly in the flow of creative writing, a word, a sentence, an image, a metaphor, or even a whole story appears which may exhibit a strange or otherwise remarkable character.

If you ask the author where this fragment comes from, he does not know, and it becomes obvious that he has not even noticed it as anything peculiar.

I will quote one such example from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.

The author describes Zarathustra’s “descent to hell” with certain characteristic details which coincide almost word for word with the narration in a ship’s log from the year 1686.

Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Now about the time that Zarathustra sojourned on the Happy Isles, it happened that a ship anchored at the isle on which the smoking mountain stands, and the crew went ashore to shoot rabbits.

About the noontide hour, however, when the captain and his men were together again, they suddenly saw a man coming towards them through the air, and a voice said distinctly:

“It is time! It is highest time!”

But when the figure drew close to them, flying past quickly like a shadow in the direction of the volcano, they recognized with the greatest dismay that it was Zarathustra.

. . . “Behold,” said the old helmsman, “Zarathustra goes down to hell!”

The four captains and a merchant, Mr. Bell, went ashore on the island of Mount Stromboli to shoot rabbits.

At three o’clock they mustered the crew to go aboard, when, to their inexpressible astonishment, they saw two men flying rapidly towards them through the air.

One was dressed in black, the other in grey.

They came past them very closely, in the greatest haste, and to their utmost dismay descended into the crater of the terrible volcano, Mount Stromboli.

They recognized the pair as acquaintances from London.

When I read Nietzsche’s story I was struck by its peculiar style, which is different from Nietzsche’s usual language, and by the strange images of a ship anchored off a mythological island, of a captain and his crew shooting rabbits, and of the descent to hell of a man who was recognized as an old acquaintance.


The parallels with Kerner could not be a mere coincidence.


Kerner’s collection dates from about 1835 and is probably the only extant source of the seaman’s yarn.


At least I was certain that Nietzsche must have gleaned it from there.


He retells the story with a few significant variations and as if it were his own invention.


As it was in the year 1902 that I came across this case, I still had the opportunity to write to Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche, the author’s sister, and she remembered that she and her brother had read the Blatter aus Prevorst when Nietzsche was eleven years old, though she did not remember this particular story.


The reason why I remembered it was that I had come across Kerner’s collection four years before, in a private library; and, as I was interested

in the writings of the physicians of that time as the forerunners of medical psychology, I had read through all the volumes of the Blatter.


Naturally I should have forgotten the yarn in the course of time, because it did not interest me in any way.


But in reading Nietzsche I suddenly had a sentiment du deja vu, followed by a dim recollection of old-fashioned cut, and gradually the picture of Kerner’s book filtered into my consciousness.


Benoit, who produced a surprising parallel to Rider Haggard’s She in his novel L’Atlantide, when accused of plagiarism had to answer that he had never come across Rider Haggard’s book and was entirely unaware of its existence.


This case could also have been one of cryptomnesia, if it had not been an elaboration of a sort of representation collective, as Levy-Bruhl has named certain general ideas characteristic of primitive societies.


I shall be dealing with these later on.


What I have said about the unconscious will give the reader a fair idea of the subliminal material on which the spontaneous production of dream-symbols is based.


It is evidently material that owes its unconsciousness chiefly to the fact that certain conscious contents must necessarily lose their energy, i.e., the attention bestowed on them, or their specific emotional tone, in order to make room for new contents.


If they were to retain their energy, they would remain above the threshold and one could not get rid of them. It is as if consciousness were a sort of projector that casts its light (of attention or interest) on new perceptions —due to arrive presently—as well as on the traces of former ones in a dormant state.


As a conscious act, this process can be understood as an intentional and voluntary event.


Yet just as often consciousness is forced to turn on its light by the intensity of an external or internal stimulus.


This observation is not superfluous, for there are many people who overestimate the role of will-power and think nothing can happen in their minds that they do not intend.


But, for the sake of psychological understanding, one should learn to discriminate carefully between intentional and unintentional contents.


The former are derived from the ego-personality, while the latter arise from a source which is not identical with the ego, that is, from a subliminal part of the ego, from its “other side,” which is in a way another subject.


The existence of this other subject is by no means a pathological symptom, but a normal fact that can be observed at any time anywhere.


I once had a discussion with one of my colleagues about another doctor who had done something I had qualified as “utterly idiotic.”


This doctor was my colleague’s personal friend, and moreover a believer in the somewhat fanatical creed to which my colleague subscribed.


Both were teetotalers.


He impulsively replied to my criticism: “Of course he is an ass”—pulling himself up short—”a highly intelligent man, I meant to say.”


I mildly remarked that the ass came first, whereupon he angrily denied ever having said such a thing about his friend, and to an unbeliever at that.


This man was highly regarded as a scientist, but his right hand did not know what his left was doing.


Such people are not fit for psychology and, as a matter of fact, do not like it.


But that is the way the voice from the other side is usually treated: “I didn’t mean it, I never said so.” And in the end, as Nietzsche says, memory prefers to give way. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 196-201