My Most Difficult Experiment
“My Most Difficult Experiment”
In 1912, Jung had some significant dreams that he did not understand. He gave particular importance to two of these,
which he felt showed the limitations of Freud’s conceptions of dreams. The first follows:
I was in a southern town, on a rising street with narrow half landings. It was twelve o’clock midday- bright sunshine.
An old Austrian customs guard or someone similar passes by me, lost in thought.
Someone says, “that is one who cannot die.
He died already 30-40 years ago, but has not yet managed to decompose.”
I was very surprised. Here a striking figure came, a knight of powerful build, clad in yellowish armor.
He looks solid and inscrutable and nothing impresses him.
On his back he carries a red Maltese cross.
He has continued to exist from the 12th century and daily between 12 and 1 o’clock midday he takes the same route. No one marvels at
these two apparitions, but I was extremely surprised.
I hold back my interpretive skills. As regards the old Austrian, Freud occurred to me; as regards the knight, I myself Inside, a voice calls, “It is all empty and disgusting.”
I must bear it.
Jung found this dream oppressive and bewildering, and Freud was unable to interpret it_ Around half a year later Jung had another dream:
I dreamt at that time (it was shortly after Christmas 1912), that I was sitting with my children in a marvelous and richly furnished castle apartment- an open columned hall- we were sitting at a round table, whose top was a marvelous dark green stone.
Suddenly a gull or a dove flew in and sprang lightly onto the table. I admonished the children to be quiet, so that they would not scare away the beautiful white bird.
Suddenly this bird turned into a child of eight years, a small blond girl, and ran around playing with my children in the marvelous columned colonnades.
Then the child suddenly turned into the gull or dove.
She said the following to me: “Only in the first hour of the night can I become human, while the male dove is busy with the twelve dead.”
With these words the bird flew away and I awoke.
In Black Book 2, Jung noted that it was this dream that made him decide to embark on a relationship with a woman he had met three years earlier (Toni Wolff)
In 1925, he remarked that this dream “was the beginning of a conviction that the unconscious did not consist of inert material only, but that there was something living down there.”
He added that he thought of the story of the Tabula smaragdina ( emerald tablet), the twelve apostles, the signs of the Zodiac, and so on, but that he “could make nothing out of the dream except that there was a tremendous animation of the unconscious. I
knew no technique of getting at the bottom of this activity; all I could do was just wait, keep on living, and watch the fantasies.”
These dreams led him to analyze his childhood memories, but this did not resolve anything.
He realized that he needed to recover the emotional tone of childhood.
He recalled that as a child, he used to like to build houses and other structures, and he took this up again.
While he was engaged in this self-analytic activity, he continued to develop his theoretical work.
At the Munich Psycho-Analytical Congress in September 1913, he spoke on psychological types.
He argued that there were two basic movements of the libido: extraversion, in which the subject’s interest was oriented toward the outer world, and introversion, in which the subject’s interest was directed inward.
Following from this, he posited two types of people, characterized by a predominance of one of these tendencies.
The psychologies of Freud and Adler were examples of the fact that psychologies often took what was true of their type as generally valid.
Hence what was required was a psychology that did justice to both of these types.
The following month, on a train journey to Schaffhausen, Jung experienced a waking vision of Europe being devastated by a catastrophic flood, which was repeated two weeks later, on the same journey.
Commenting on this experience in 1925, he remarked: “I could be taken as Switzerland fenced in by mountains and the submergence of the world could be the debris of my former relationships.”
This led him to the following diagnosis of his condition: “I thought to myself, ‘If this means anything, it means that I am hopelessly off ‘”
After this experience, Jung feared that he would go mad.
He recalled that he first thought that the images of the vision indicated a revolution, but as he could not imagine this, he concluded that he was “menaced with a psychosis.”
After this, he had a similar vision:
In the following winter I was standing at the window one night and looked North. I saw a blood-red glow, like the -flicker of the sea seen from afar, stretched from East to West across the northern horizon.
And at that time someone asked me what I thought about world events in the near future.
I said that I had no thoughts, but saw blood, rivers of blood.
In the years directly preceding the outbreak of war, apocalyptic imagery was widespread in European arts and literature.
For example, in 1912,Wassily Kandinsky wrote of a coming universal catastrophe.
From 1912 to 1914, Ludwig Meidner painted a series of works known as the apocalyptic landscapes, with scenes of destroyed cities, corpses, and turmoil.
Prophecy was in the air.
In 1899, the famous American medium Leonora Piper predicted that in the coming century there would be a terrible war in different
parts of the world that would cleanse the world and reveal the truths of spiritualism.
In 1918, Arthur Conan Doyle, the spiritualist and author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, viewed this as having been prophetic.
In Jung’s account of the fantasy on the train in Liber Novus, the inner voice said that what the fantasy depicted would become
completely real. Initially, he interpreted this subjectively and prospectively; that is, as depicting the imminent destruction of his
His reaction to this experience was to undertake a psychological investigation of himself In this epoch, self-experimentation
was used in medicine and psychology Introspection had been one of the main tools of psychological research.
Jung came to realize that Traniformations and Symbols of the Libido “could be talcen as myself and that an analysis of it leads
inevitably into an analysis of my own unconscious processes.”
He had projected his material onto that of Miss Frank Miller, whom he had never met.
Up to this point, Jung had been an active thinker and had been averse to fantasy: “as a form of thinking I held it to be altogether impure, a sort of incestuous intercourse, thoroughly immoral from an intellectual viewpoint.”
He now turned to analyze his fantasies, carefully noting everything, and had to overcome considerable resistance in doing this: “Permitting
fantasy in myself had the same effect as would be produced on a man if he came into his workshop and found all the tools flying about doing things independently of his will.”
In studying his fantasies, Jung realized that he was studying the myth-creating function of the mind.
Jung picked up the brown notebook, which he had set aside in 1902, and began writing in it.
He noted his inner states in metaphors, such as being in a desert with an unbearably hot sun (that is, consciousness).
In the 1925 seminar, he recalled that it occurred to him that he could write down his reflections in a sequence.
He was “writing autobiographical material, but not as an autobiography.”
From the time of the Platonic dialogues onward, the dialogical form has been a prominent genre in Western philosophy.
In 387 CE, St. Augustine wrote his Soliloquies, which presented an extended dialogue between himself and “Reason,” who instructs him. They commenced with the following lines:
When I had been pondering many different things to myself for a long time, and had for many days been seeking my own self and what my own good was, and what evil was to be avoided, there suddenly spoke to me-what was it?
I myself or someone else, inside or outside me> (this is the very thing I would love to know but don’t).
While Jung was writing in Black Book 2, I said to myself, “What is this I am doing, it certainly is not science, what is it?” Then a voice said to me, “That is art.”
This made the strangest sort of impression upon me, because it was not in any sense my impression that what I was writing was art.
Then I came to this, “Perhaps my unconscious is forming a personality that is not I, but which is insisting on coming through to expression.”
I don’t know why exactly; but I knew to a certainty that the voice that had said my writing was art had come from a woman .. . Well I said very emphatically to this voice that what I was doing was not art, and I felt a great resistance grow up within me.
No voice came through, however, and I kept on writing.
This time I caught her and said, “No it is not,” and I felt as though an argument would ensue.
He thought that this voice was “the soul in the prim1t1ve sense,” which he called the anima (the Latin word for soul) .
He stated that “In putting down all this material for analysis, I was in effect writing letters to my anima, that is part of myself with a different viewpoint from my own. I got remarks of a new character-I was in analysis with a ghost and a woman.”
In retrospect, he recalled that this was the voice of a Dutch patient whom he knew from 1912 to 1918, who had persuaded a psychiatrist colleague that he was a misunderstood artist.
The woman had thought that the unconscious was art, but Jung had maintained that it was nature.
I have previously argued that the woman in question-the only Dutch woman in Jung’s circle at this time-was Maria Moltzer, and that the psychiatrist in question was Jung’s friend and colleague Franz Riklin, who increasingly forsook analysis for painting.
In 1913, he became a student of Augusto Giacometti’s, the uncle of Alberto Giacometti, and an important early abstract painter in his own right.
The November entries in Black Book 2 depict Jung’s sense of his return to his soul. He recounted the dreams that led him to opt for his scientific career, and the recent dreams that had brought him back to his soul.
As he recalled in 1925, this first period of writing came to an end in November: “Not knowing what would come next, I thought perhaps more introspection was needed . ..
I devised such a boring method by fantasizing that I was digging a hole, and by accepting this fantasy as perfectly real.”60 The first
such experiment took place on December 12, 1913
As indicated, Jung had had extensive experience studying mediums in trance states, during which they were encouraged to produce waking fantasies and visual hallucinations, and had conducted experiments with automatic writing.
Practices of visualization had also been used in various religious traditions.
For example, in the fifth of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, individuals are instructed on how to “see with the eyes of the imagination the length, breadth and depth of hell,” and to experience this with full sensory immediacy Swedenborg also engaged in “spirit writing.” In his spiritual diary, one entry reads:
26 JAN. 1748.-
Spirits, if permitted, could possess those who speak with them so utterly, that they would be as though they were entirely in the world; and indeed, in a manner so manifest, that they could communicate their thoughts through their medium, and even by letters; for they have sometimes, and indeed often, directed my hand when writing, as though it were quite their own; so that they thought it was not I, but themselves writing.
From 1909 onward in Vienna, the psychoanalyst Herbert Silberer conducted experiments on himself in hypnagogic states.
Silberer attempted to allow images to appear.
These images, he maintained, presented symbolic depictions of his previous train of thought.
Silberer corresponded with Jung and sent him offprints of his articles.
In 1912, Ludwig Staudenmaier (1865-1933), a professor of experimental chemistry, published a work entitled Magic as an Experimental Science.
Staudenmaier had embarked on selfexperimentations in 1901, commencing with automatic writing.
A series of characters appeared, and he found that he no longer needed to write to conduct dialogues with them.
He also induced acoustic and visual hallucinations.
The aim of his enterprise was to use his self-experimentation to provide a scientific explanation of magic.
He argued that the key to understanding magic lay in the concepts of hallucinations and the “under consciousness” (Unterbewujtsein), and gave particular importance
to the role of personifications.66 Thus we see that Jung’s procedure closely resembled a number of historical and contemporary practices with which he was familiar.
From December 1913 onward, he carried on in the same procedure: deliberately evoking a fantasy in a waking state, and then entering into it as into a drama.
These fantasies may be understood as a type of dramatized thinking in pictorial form.
In reading his fantasies, the impact of Jung’s mythological studies is clear.
Some of the figures and conceptions derive directly from his readings, and the form and style bear witness to his fascination with the world of myth and epic.
In the Black Books, Jung wrote down his fantasies in dated entries, together with reflections on this state of mind and his difficulties in comprehending the fantasies.
The Black Books are not diaries of events, and very few dreams are noted in them.
Rather, they are the records of an experiment.
In December 1913, he referred to the first of the black books as the “book of my most difficult experiment.”
In retrospect, he recalled that his scientific question was to see what took place when he switched off consciousness.
The example of dreams indicated the existence of background activity, and he wanted to give this a possibility of emerging, just as one does when taking mescalin.
In an entry in his dream book on April 17, 1917, Jung noted: “since then, frequent exercises in the emptying of consciousness.”
His procedure was clearly intentional-while its aim was to allow psychic contents to appear spontaneously.
He recalled that beneath the threshold of consciousness, everything was animated.
At times, it was as if he heard something.
At other times, he realized that he was whispering to himself.
From November 1913 to the following July, he remained uncertain of the meaning and significance of his undertaking, and concerning
the meaning of his fantasies, which continued to develop.
During this time, Philemon, who would prove to be an important figure in subsequent fantasies, appeared in a dream. Jung recounted:
There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by fl.at brown clods of earth.
It looked as if the clods were breaking apart and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible between them.
But the water was the blue sky Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull.
He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock.
He had the wings of the kingfisher with its characteristic colors.
Since I did not understand this dream image,
I painted it in order to impress it upon my memory.
‘While he was painting this image, he found a dead kingfisher ( which is very rarely found in the vicinity of Zurich) in his garden
by the lake shore.
The date of this dream is not clear.
The figure of Philemon first appears in the Black Books on January 27, 1914, but without kingfisher wings.
To Jung, Philemon represented superior insight, and was like a guru to him. He would converse with him in the garden.
He recalled that Philemon evolved out of the figure of Elijah, who had previously appeared in his fantasies:
Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration . . . It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche.
Through the conversations with Philemon, the distinction was clarified between myself and the object of my thought .
Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight.
On April 20, Jung resigned as president of the International Psychoanalytical Association. On April 30, he resigned as a lecturer in the medical faculty of the University of Zurich.
He recalled that he felt that he was in an exposed position at the university and felt that he had to find a new orientation, as it would otherwise be unfair to teach students.
In June and July, he had a thrice repeated dream of being in a foreign land and having to return home quickly by ship, followed by the descent of an icy cold.
On July IO, the Zurich Psychoanalytical Society voted by 15 to I to leave the International Psychoanalytic Association.
In the minutes, the reason given for the secession was that Freud had established an orthodoxy that impeded free and independent research.
The group was renamed the Association for Analytical Psychology Jung was actively involved in this association, which met fortnightly
He also maintained a busy therapeutic practice.
Between 1913 and 1914, he had between one and nine consultations per day, five days a week, with am average of between five and seven.
The minutes of the Association for Analytical Psychology offer no indications of the process that Jung was going through.
He does not refer to his fantasies, and continues to discuss theoretical issues in psychology.
The same holds true in his surviving correspondences during this period.
Each year, he continued his military service duties.
Thus he maintained his professional activities and familial responsibilities during the day, and dedicated his evenings to his self-explorations.
Indications are that this partitioning of activities continued during the next few years.
Jung recalled that during this period his family and profession “always remained a joyful reality and a guarantee that I was normal and really existed.”
The question of the different ways of interpreting such fantasies was the subject of a talk that he presented on July 24 before the Psycho-Medical Society in London, “On psychological understanding.”
Here, he contrasted Freud’s analytic-reductive method, based on causality, with the constructive method of the Zurich school.
The shortcoming of the former was that through tracing things back to antecedent elements, it dealt with only half
of the picture, and failed to grasp the living meaning of phenomena.
Someone who attempted to understand Goethe’s Faust in such a manner would be like someone who tried to understand a Gothic
cathedral under its mineralogical aspect.
The living meaning “only lives when we experience it in and through ourselves.”
Inasmuch as life was essentially new, it could not be understood merely retrospectively Hence the constructive standpoint asked, “how, out of this present psyche, a bridge can be built into its own future.”
This paper implicitly presents Jung’s rationale for not embarking on a causal and retrospective analysis of his fantasies, and serves as a caution to others who may be tempted to do so.
Presented as a critique and reformulation of psychoanalysis, Jung’s new mode of interpretation links back to the symbolic method of Swedenborg’s spiritual hermeneutics.
On July 28, Jung gave a talk on “The importance of the unconscious in psychopathology” at a meeting of the British Medical Association in Aberdeen.
He argued that in cases of neurosis and psychosis, the unconscious attempted to compensate the one-sided conscious attitude.
The unbalanced individual defends himself against this, and the opposites become more polarized.
The corrective impulses that present themselves in the language of the unconscious should be the beginning of a healing process, but the form in which they break through makes them unacceptable to consciousness.
A month earlier, on June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a nineteen-year-old Serb student.
On August I, war broke out.
In 1925 Jung recalled, “I had the feeling that I was an over-compensated psychosis, and from this feeling I was not released till August I” 1914.”
Years later, he said to Mircea Eliade:
As a psychiatrist I became worried, wondering if I was not on the way to “doing a schizophrenia,” as we said in the language of those days … I was just preparing a lecture on schizophrenia to be delivered at a congress in Aberdeen, and I kept saying to myself: “I’ll be speaking of myself!
Very likely I’ll go mad after reading out this paper.”
The congress was to take place in July 1914-exactly the same period when I saw myself in my three dreams voyaging on the Southern seas.
On July 31″, immediately after my lecture, I learned from the newspapers that war had broken out.
Finally I understood.
And when I disembarked in Holland on the next day, nobody was happier than I.
Now I was sure that no schizophrenia was threatening me.
I understood that my dreams and my visions came to me from the subsoil of the collective unconscious.
What remained for me to do now was to deepen and validate this discovery
And this is what I have been trying to do for forty years.
At this moment, Jung considered that his fantasy had depicted not what would happen to him, but to Europe.
In other words, that it was a precognition of a collective event, what he would later call a “big” dream.
After this realization, he attempted to see whether and to what extent this was true of the other fantasies that he experienced, and to understand the meaning of this correspondence between private fantasies and public events.
This effort makes up much of the subject matter of Liber Novus.
In Scrutinies, he wrote that the outbreak of the war had enabled him to understand much of what he had previously experienced, and had given him the courage to write the earlier part of Liber
Thus he took the outbreak of the war as showing him that his fear of going mad was misplaced.
It is no exaggeration to say that had war not been declared, Liber Novus would in all likelihood not have been compiled.
In 1955/ 56, while discussing active imagination, Jung commented that “the reason why the involvement looks very much like a psychosis is that the patient is integrating the same fantasy-material to which the insane person falls victim because he cannot integrate it but is swallowed up by it.”
It is important to note that there are around twelve separate fantasies that Jung may have regarded as precognitive:
1- 2. OCTOBER, 1913
Repeated vision of flood and death of thousands, and the voice that said that this will become real.
3, AUTUMN 1913
Vision of the sea of blood covering the northern lands.
4 – 5. DECEMBER 12, 15, 1913.
Image of a dead hero and the slaying of Siegfried in a dream.
- DECEMBER 25, 1913
Image of the foot of a giant stepping on a city. and images of murder and bloody cruelty
JANUARY 2, 1914
Image of a sea of blood and a procession of dead multitudes.
JANUARY 22, 1914
His soul comes up from the depths and asks him if he will accept war and destruction. She shows him images of destruction, military weapons, human remains, sunken ships, destroyed states, etc.
MAY 21, 1914
A voice says that the sacrificed fall left and right.
I0- 12. JUNE- JULY 1914
Thrice-repeated dream of being in a foreign land and having to return quickly by ship, and the descent of the icy cold. 198-202