Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/09

27

Not Quite All There

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It’s not exactly news that Carl Jung was a rum ‘un, but even so this piece from the New York Times is a reminder that the irrational will always be with us, perhaps too much of a reminder. Here’s an extract:

For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations…Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings…The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.

Yikes. In an earlier age Jung would, doubtless, have been considered some sort of holy man. In a later age he probably will be.

H/t: Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh on splendidly snarky form

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4 comments

  • John · September 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    We are just now beginning to undo the damage that Freud and Jung did to psychology. Hitler also did serious damage, by making it forbidden to talk about genes and behavior. Japan’s economy had a “lost decade”. In psychology, we lost half a century. It’s amazing how many people, even professional psychologists, still believe in the pseudoscience propagated by those two guys.

  • Caledonian · September 28, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I fail to see how having unsavory fantasies makes someone a “rum’un”.

    It’s what people do, rather than what thoughts randomly come into their heads, that determine their moral worth*.

    *for a sane and rational morality, of course.

  • Clay Sills · September 29, 2009 at 7:44 am

    I wanna know how he induced hallucinations. My recreational pharmacist has been scarce a long time.

  • Joseph Marshall · October 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    We are just now beginning to undo the damage that Freud and Jung did to psychology.

    If you, yourself, are professionally involved with psychology, you need a little better acquaintance with the history of your own discipline. In the early 20th Century any kind of physiological approach beyond crude work like Pavlov’s was simply impossible. We knew absolutely nothing directly about how genes worked until the Watson/Crick DNA discovery of the 1960′s. There was no way to directly access anything going on inside a human skull except by dissection and a corpse has no psychology to speak of. All the processes have ceased. And the processes are what we want to know. Finally, the only new pharmacological tools available were morphine and cocaine!

    And, up until about 30 years ago, our direct access to psychological processes was not that much better.

    Jung and Freud were doctors, committed to the care of patients who were undergoing terrible interior suffering and exhibiting socially negative extremes of behavior and everyone was, and had always been, clueless as to why. Under those circumstances, the only way to do “science” is exactly what they did: simple observation and pure hypothesis. Freud observed that there were processes inside the mind of his patients in the grip of neurosis that the patients themselves were not aware of and had no explanation for. His theories are based on this fact and his access to it with the only tools he had–having the neurotic individual talk to him.

    If you were confronted with his constraints, I doubt you could do nearly as well as he did. Nobody else at the time could either.

    Jung was confronted with the fact that the symptoms of psychosis displayed a more elaborate and complicated development of the simple symptoms of neurosis which the Freudian theories did not explain. Merely talking to extreme psychotics doesn’t tell you very much, so the only real approach available to him was to replicate the symptoms inside himself and observe them. And his theories were a quite reasonable extension of what he found when he did this.

    The work of these men was no more “pseudoscience” than the work of Archimedes in physics or Gregor Mendel in genetics. And human behavior is a lot more complicated and problematic that that of bath water or of sweet peas. It was science at a simpler stage of development and every advance that came after depended upon it, even if only as a point of view to refute.

    Until you comprehend this, you really do not comprehend science.

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