Monday, 11 May 2009

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

"Memories, Dreams, Reflections" by C.G. Jung: A Review
This book is Jung's autobiography. It contains many reminiscences from early childhood, youth and schooling, to his psychiatric activities, travels across the world, and concluding thoughts on life after death.
Jung was a remarkable man. As well as a medical training, and his psychological work, he was knowledgeable about many philosophers from Pythagoras and Plato to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Kant, and also at home with the myths and cultures of many different lands. His travels, which he recounts in this book, took him across North Africa, to America (visiting the Pueblo Indians), to Kenya, Uganda and India.
The most interesting chapters, in my opinion, are those where Jung talks about his psychiatric activities, and his abiding unhappiness with the contemporary practice of psychiatry. "Psychiatry teachers, " he writes, "were not interested in what the patient had to say, but rather in how to make a diagnosis or how to describe symptoms and to compile statistics."
Jung saw this labelling process only as a rough guide to the psychiatrist, to "give the doctor a certain orientation", but he was fully aware of the limitations inherent in such an approach. A diagnosis, such as "schizophrenia", was merely a means of classification. It did not actually explain anything. In this context, Jung cites a patient who "used to be presented as a catatonic form of dementia praecox." He comments: "That meant nothing to me, for these words did not contribute in the slightest to an understanding of the significance and origin of the patient's curious gestures."
Psychiatric classification is an attempt, albeit unscientific, to postulate universal theories about the human psyche. One criticism of such an approach is that, without testable consequences of such a method, there is no legitimate reason for preferring one set of equivalence classes to another. Another criticism, which Jung put, was that such methods "are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life." Here, Jung reveals himself to be very much an individualist, and he argues his position cogently: "I treat every patient as individually as possible, because the solution of the problem is always an individual one... A solution which would be out of the question for me may be just the right one for someone else."
I admire much of what Jung reveals of himself in this book, particularly what I would call his scientific humility. "I take a careful look at the varied events that come my way," he writes, "regardless of whether or not they fit in with my theoretical postulates." This book is a demonstration of how he lives up to that aim: it explains why, in the latter chapters, he is not afraid to examine such esoteric matters as ghosts, "UFO" phenomena, and the experiments of J.B. Rhine.
That Jung is prepared to study such matters is probably the reason why some of his writings are considered eccentric. This is, I think, a mistaken opinion. While Jung had a deep respect for empiricism, he was not a positivist, and saw no reason for finding insights in myths that were not testable, although he never lost sight of the fact that such insights could have no absolute validity.
I recommend this book as an interesting background to one of the great thinkers in psychology. If Jung's writing is not always clear, it is never laborious or dull.



Todd Laurence said...

Jung had a long association with
W. Pauli, the physicist, (1932-1958) and their letters were
published under title, "atom
and archetype." The main conclusions to archetypal reality
is the nature of "acausal connections" (synchronicity) in
the space-time continuum.
Jung and Pauli suggested that
number is the most primal archetype
of order in the human mind, i.e., that it is pre-existent to consciousness, and further explains
this notion with these comments:

Since the remotest times men have used number to establish meaningful coincidences, that is, coincidences that can be interpreted.

There is something peculiar, one might even say mysterious about numbers. They have never been entirely robbed of their numinous aura. If, so a textbook of mathematics tell us, a group of objects is deprived of every single one of its properties or characteristics, there still remains, at the end, its number, which seems to indicate that number is something irreducible.

The sequence of natural numbers turns out to be unexpectedly more than a mere stringing together of identical units; it contains the whole of mathematics and everything yet to be discovered in this field.

Number, therefore, is in one sense an unpredictable entity.

It is generally believed that numbers were invented, or thought out by man, and are therefore nothing but concepts of quantities containing nothing that was not previously put into them by the human intellect. But it is equally possible that numbers were found or discovered.. In that case they are not only concepts but something more-autonomous entities which somehow contain more than just quantities.

Unlike concepts, they are based not on any conditions but on the quality of being themselves, on a "so-ness" that cannot be expressed by an intellectual concept.

Under these conditions they might easily be endowed with qualities that have still to be discovered.

I must confess that I incline to the view that numbers were as much found as invented, and that in consequence they possess a relative autonomy analogous to that of the archetypes.

They would then have in common with the latter, the quality of being pre-existent to consciousness, and hence, on occasion, of conditioning it, rather than being conditioned by it.

Appropriate quotes:

"man has need of the word, but in
essence number is sacred." Jung....

"our primary mathematical intuitions can be arranged
before we become conscious
of them." Pauli....

New York

Rob Kent said...

I was obsessed with Jungian thought throughout my teen years and a bit beyond. I noticed quite a lot of nasty stuff in there at the time but it didn't click until much later when I studied the German Volk mystical movement in 19th and early 20th century Germany.

For someone who claims to have an interest in mysticism arising from a universal unconscious, it is notable that Jung never references the great Jewish mystic tradition.

I think that Jung was positive in many ways, but he enjoyed and exploited his priestly status. He also had an elitist view of the suffering of the third world (cf his remark on nuclear war being necessary to 'skim off the population' - you know he wasn't thinking of the population of Switzerland).

He had a weird, condescending, and colonialist attitude to Africa, not belied by his idolization of its 'chthonic elements. He bought into the whole 19th century colonial and interventionist tradition of the 'dark continent'.

He was also a philistine who was incapable of understanding modernism. See his laughable essay on Ulysses.

After James Joyce took his daughter, Lucia, to see Jung because of her incipient mental illness, she is reported as saying, "Don't let that Swiss bourgeois get his dirty fingers on my soul", preempting Foucault by 50 years.

Jung definitely said some interesting things and presented a refreshing alternative analysis to Adlerian power and Freudian desire but his emphasis on the irrational and aversion to the empirical is worrying. He rarely published his research in peer-reviewed journals, preferring instead to make ex-cathedra statements in the national press or his books.

See 'The Jung Cult' by Richard Noll for a 'provocative and controversial reassessment' of Jung's 'volkisch utopianism'.

TonyTheProf said...

I'm not aware that Freud went in much for peer review either! Or Adler, for that matter. I'm not totally convinced that it is possible to place a subject as marginally scientific as psychoanalsis to peer review.

But I'm not a positivist: there may well be interesting insights there which might someday be testable, or which might be true, but beyond the reach of testability. The notion that the psyche (or indeed the universe) can all potentially be susceptive to rational explanation is itself an assumption, and an unproven one, although as a working principle it can be useful.

What was interesting about Jung's "collective unconscious" is that it was not mystical as such, but in fact was rooted by Jung in Darwinian theory - the idea being that all minds contained shared archetypes because they shared a common ancestry.