I have never considered myself a religious person but nonetheless believe in God, which I view in non-traditional terms. One could say that God is a symbol which represents the highest value, at least that is how I see it. My study of Carl Jung’s psychology has helped me approach God as a psychic reality rather than a physical fact. Truth is not confined to the existence of concrete things, but finds its expression in the synthesis of values. As a person without a religion, I explored psychology and philosophy in search of answers, and found some, although hardly not all things I was looking for, in Jung’s work. To best understand what I mean requires further explanation. Jung’s psychology forms a seamless whole, although when viewed from different angles, it may not appear as a comprehensive system of related ideas. So what is Jungian (i.e., analytical) psychology? There is no universally accepted view of what Jung’s psychology is, although most people consider it an offshoot of the early twentieth century psychoanalytic movement. One could say that Jung’s psychology is primarily a psychology with a psyche. Analytical psychology is an interdisciplinary science predicated on the notion of psychic realism—the idea that the psyche is indispensable to experience.
Experience of the world would not be possible were it not for life’s uncanny ability to form images (i.e., representations). The experience of the world per se consists of an image which we have psychically constructed over time. I have no intention of descending into a Berkeleyan rabbit hole, however, it should be sufficiently evident that the world of our experience is not the same as the world per se. After all, a world unrepresented is ineffable. The philosopher of science, Owen Barfield (1988), put forward a similar idea: “if the particles, or the unrepresented, are in fact all that is independently there, then the world we all accept as real is in fact a system of collective representations” (p. 20). Barfield added:
And if the appearances are . . . correlative to human consciousness and if human consciousness does not remain unchanged but evolves, then the future of appearances, that is of nature herself, must indeed depend on the direction which that evolution takes. (p. 144)
Barfield suggested that the appearances—phenomena—are inextricably tied to consciousness and thus, it is impossible to discuss a world without the experience of the world, and the psyche is what makes experience possible. Accordingly, the personality has ostensibly emerged from a larger psychic backdrop of life as a whole. In light of Jung’s observations and discoveries, we can take stock in our presence in the universe and assert with moderate confidence that conscious life is indispensable to the world.
Like a botanist exploring the newly discovered Amazon rainforest, Jung proceeded to identify and classify psychic experiences common to all people. Armed with his extensive education and tireless intellect, Jung created a whole new lexicon which has found currency in popular culture. In fact, a whole psychological taxonomy resulted from his studies. What is so striking about Jung’s psychology, when properly understood, is that it accounts for nearly every aspect of human experience and behavior. The following statements tend to summarize the main tenets of Jung’s psychology:
- The personality is a dynamic system consisting of two principal parts: the conscious mind and the unconscious.
- The personality seeks to find balance throughout its lifespan. The ultimate aim for the personality, Jung suggested, is psychic wholeness, which arises through a complex and continuous process called individuaiton.
- The basic units of the collective unconscious are the archetypes.
- There are as many archetypes as there are distinct human experiences, however, Jung named a few major ones: the Self, shadow, trickster, hero, anima, and animus.
- All complexes arise from archetypes, the universal patterns of psychic functioning.
- There are four functions of consciousness: thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation.
- Jung also named two psychological attitudes: extraversion and introversion.
- In Jung’s psychology, there is a distinction between a sign and a symbol.
- Jung preferred the more general term of psychic energy over Freud’s libido.
The aim of presenting these ideas is to show that what Jung was ultimately creating was a map of the soul. The map has a territory, the psyche; a compass, the symbols; a legend, complexes and archetypes; and an overarching narrative written by millions of years of physical and psychic evolution. One need only pay attention to their dreams to experience the symbols that Jung so often wrote about in his extensive corpus. These archetypal symbols originate from the wellsprings of the soul, which is, I believe, present whether one senses it or not. Thus, I would encourage anyone with the time and wherewithal to pursue a study of Jung’s psychology. Although your soul may not require salvation, your mind can always benefit from what Jung aspired to show.
Barfield, O. (1988). Saving the appearances: A study in idolatry. University Press of New England: Hanover, NH. (Original work published 1957).