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The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8) (Collected Works of C.G. Jung (47)

A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species.

The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.

The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual, our entrenchment in the outer world, the propagation of our kind, and the care of our children.

This is the obvious purpose of nature.

But when this purpose has been attained—and more than attained—shall the earning of money, the extension of conquests, and the expansion of life go steadily on beyond the bounds of all reason and sense?

Whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning, or the natural aim, must pay for it with damage to his soul, just as surely as a growing youth who tries to carry over his childish egoism into adult life must pay for this mistake with social failure.

Money-making, social achievement, family and posterity are nothing but plain nature, not culture.

Culture lies outside the purpose of nature. Could by any chance culture be the meaning and purpose of the second half of life?

In primitive tribes we observe that the old people are almost always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws, and it is in these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is expressed.

How does the matter stand with us? Where is the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious secrets and their visions?

For the most part our old people try to compete with the young.

In the United States it is almost an ideal for a father to be the brother of his sons, and for the mother to be if possible the younger sister of her daughter.

I do not know how much of this confusion is a reaction against an earlier exaggeration of the dignity of age, and how much is to be charged to false ideals.

These undoubtedly exist, and the goal of those who hold them lies behind, and not ahead.

Therefore they are always striving to turn back.

We have to grant these people that it is hard to see what other goal the second half of life can offer than the well-known aims of the first.

Expansion of life, usefulness, efficiency, the cutting of a figure in society, the shrewd steering of offspring into suitable marriages and good positions—are not these purposes enough?

Unfortunately not enough meaning and purpose for those who see in the approach of old age a mere diminution of life and can feel their earlier ideals only as something faded and worn out.

Of course, if these persons had filled up the beaker of life earlier and emptied it to the lees, they would feel quite differently about everything now; they would have kept nothing back, everything that wanted to catch fire would have been consumed, and the quiet of old age would be very welcome to them.

But we must not forget that only a very few people are artists in life; that the art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts.

Whoever succeeded in draining the whole cup with grace?

So for many people all too much unlived life remains over—sometimes potentialities which they could never have lived with the best of wills, so that they approach the threshold of old age with unsatisfied demands which inevitably turn their glances backward.

It is particularly fatal for such people to look back.

For them a prospect and a goal in the future are absolutely necessary.

That is why all great religions hold out the promise of a life beyond, of a supra-mundane goal which makes it possible for mortal man to live the second half of life with as much purpose and aim as the first.

For the man of today the expansion of life and its culmination are plausible goals, but the idea of life after death seems to him questionable or beyond belief.

Life’s cessation, that is, death, can only be accepted as a reasonable goal either when existence is so wretched that we are only too glad for it to end, or when we are convinced that the sun strives to its setting “to illuminate distant races” with the same logical consistency it showed in rising to the zenith.

But to believe has become such a difficult art today that it is beyond the capacity of most people, particularly the educated part of humanity.

They have become too accustomed to the thought that, with regard to immortality and such questions, there are innumerable contradictory opinions and no convincing proofs.

And since “science” is the catchword that seems to carry the weight of absolute conviction in the temporary world, we ask for “scientific” proofs.

But educated people who can think know very well that proof of this kind is a philosophical impossibility.

We simply cannot know anything whatever about such things.

May I remark that for the same reasons we cannot know, either, whether something does happen to a person after death?

No answer of any kind is permissible, either for or against.

We simply have no definite scientific knowledge about it one way or the other, and are therefore in the same position as when we ask whether the planet Mars is inhabited or not.

And the inhabitants of Mars, if there are any, are certainly not concerned whether we affirm or deny their existence.

They may exist or they may not.

And that is how it stands with so-called immortality—with which we may shelve the problem.

But here my medical conscience awakens and urges me to say a word which has an important bearing on this question.

I have observed that a life directed to an aim is in general better, richer, and healthier than an aimless one, and that it is better to go forwards with the stream of time than backwards against it.

To the psychotherapist an old man who cannot bid farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace it.

And as a matter of fact, it is in many cases a question of the selfsame childish greediness, the same fear, the same defiance and willfulness, in the one as in the other.

As a doctor I am convinced that it is hygienic—if I may use the word—to discover in death a goal towards which one can strive, and that shrinking away from it is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose.

I therefore consider that all religions with a supra-mundane goal are eminently reasonable from the point of view of psychic hygiene.

When I live in a house which I know will fall about my head within the next two weeks, all my vital functions will be impaired by this thought; but if on the contrary I feel myself to be safe, I can dwell there in a normal and comfortable way.

From the standpoint of psychotherapy it would therefore be desirable to think of death as only a transition, as part of a life process whose extent and duration are beyond our knowledge.

In spite of the fact that the majority of people do not know why the body needs salt, everyone demands it nonetheless because of an instinctive need.

It is the same with the things of the psyche.

By far the greater portion of mankind have from time immemorial felt the need of believing in a continuance of life.

The demands of therapy, therefore, do not lead us into any bypaths but down the middle of the highway trodden by humanity.

For this reason we are thinking correctly, and in harmony with life, even though we do not understand what we think.

Do we ever understand what we think?

We only understand that kind of thinking which is a mere equation, from which nothing comes out but what we have put in.

That is the working of the intellect.

But besides that there is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man, which are inborn in him from the earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche.

It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.

It is a question neither of belief nor of knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.

They are the unthinkable matrices of all our thoughts, no matter what our conscious mind may cogitate.

One of these primordial thoughts is the idea of life after death.

Science and these primordial images are incommensurables.

They are irrational data, a priori conditions of the imagination which are simply there, and whose purpose and justification science can only investigate a posteriori, much as it investigates a function like
that of the thyroid gland.

Before the nineteenth century the thyroid was regarded as a meaningless organ merely because it was not understood.

It would be equally shortsighted of us today to call the primordial images senseless.

For me these images are something like psychic organs, and I treat them with the very greatest respect.

It happens sometimes that I must say to an older patient: “Your picture of God or your idea of immortality is atrophied, consequently your psychic metabolism is out of gear.”

The ancient athanasias pharmakon, the medicine of immortality, is more profound and meaningful than we supposed.

In conclusion I would like to come back for a moment to the comparison with the sun.

The one hundred and eighty degrees of the arc of life are divisible into four parts.

The first quarter, lying to the east, is childhood, that state in which we are a problem for others but are not yet conscious of any problems of our own.

Conscious problems fill out the second and third quarters; while in the last, in extreme old age, we descend again into that condition where, regardless of our state of consciousness, we once more become something of a problem for others.

Childhood and extreme old age are, of course, utterly different, and yet they have one thing in common: submersion in unconscious psychic happenings.

Since the mind of a child grows out of the unconscious its psychic processes, though not easily accessible, are not as difficult to discern as those of a very old person who is sinking again into the unconscious,
and who progressively vanishes within it.

Childhood and old age are the stages of life without any conscious problems, for which reason I have not taken them into consideration here. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, Pages 399-403.