Feet of Clay - A Study of Gurus: Jung
by Anthony Storr
THERE MAY STILL BE people who think of Carl Gustav Jung only as a distinguished psychiatrist who enlarged our understanding of the mind and who also made important contributions to psychotherapy. He did both, but his variety of analysis is not simply concerned with the relief of neurotic symptoms; it promises a secular form of salvation. Jung was a spiritual teacher as well as a physician. In many respects, he conformed to the pattern typical of gurus which I indicated in the introduction. He himself affirmed that all his most important insights originated from the long period of psychological disturbance which followed his parting from Freud. He emerged from this distressing mental illness toward the end of the First World War with a new revelation. In his later writings he made overt claims to be a prophet, because he believed that he had been granted special insight. He said that, for all those of middle-age or over, healing depended upon gaining or regaining a religious outlook on life. Jung did not directly aim at acquiring disciples; but he became surrounded with a group of close associates in Zurich who founded the C. G. Jung Institute there in 1948. Jungian centres at which analysts were trained and Jungian ideas propagated subsequently became established in many different parts of Europe and America.
Jung claimed to be a scientist, and no doubt wanted to be regarded in this light. In a letter written in 1935 to a lady seeking his view of Rudolf Steiner, Jung wrote:
"I have read a few books by Rudolf Steiner and must confess that I have found nothing in them that is of the slightest use to me. You must understand that I am a researcher and not a prophet. What matters to me is what can be verified by experience. But I am not interested at all in what can be speculated about experience without any proof."
But many of Jung's own ideas. like those of Steiner, are directly derived from his own subjective experience, and cannot be objectively verified.
Jung was a distinguished psychiatrist before he met Freud, and had carried out experiments in word-association which can be regarded as more 'scientific' than any work carried out by Freud after he left Brucke's laboratory. His medical training must have made him aware of the requirements of scientific proof, and, although he was a poor mathematician, he kept up an interest in modern physics. But I do not think it likely that Jung ever regarded psychosis or neurosis as curable by methods only depending upon scientific detachment. Indeed, Jung took up the then neglected and undervalued speciality of psychiatry because Krafft-Ebing's Textbook of Psychiatry pointed out that so little had been established in this field that even psychiatric textbooks bore the stamp of subjectivity. Instead of being put off by this, as he would have been if he had been a pure scientist, Jung was immediately attracted to a branch of medicine which promised opportunities for him to use his own personality in the understanding and therapy of the mentally ill, as opposed to being the detached surgeon or specialist in internal medicine which he had originally planned to become. When he was only twenty-one years old, Jung gave a lecture to the Zofingia student fraternity with the title 'The Border Zones of Exact Science,' in which he postulated that critical examination of rational scientific claims leads into a realm which is immaterial or metaphysical. The student was father to the man.
Jung never believed that the human problems with which he became concerned as a psychotherapist could be treated or understood in the same way as a problem in physics. This is entirely reasonable. I have elsewhere contrasted the special objective stance adopted by experimental psychologists with the way in which we interact with each other in ordinary social life. Human relationships are based upon subjective assumptions of similarity and the capacity for empathy. We cannot understand others or ourselves if we look only at behaviour. Whereas Freud kept his patients at a distance by putting them on a couch and sitting behind them, Jung preferred to sit face-to-face with his patients and relate to them in a human, more ordinary fashion.
Jung displayed guru-like characteristics for reasons which can be traced to his own background and upbringing. I suggested earlier that potential gurus had often been rather solitary children. This was certainly true of Jung. Although he had a sister, who was born in 1884, he was an only child for the first nine years of his life. In his autobiography, he described playing solitary games and his dislike of being observed or interrupted whilst engaged in them. Albert Oeri, later the editor of the Basler Nachrichten and a member of the Swiss National Council, was brought by his parents to the Jung household when he and Jung were still very small boys in the hope that they would play together. To Albert's chagrin, the little Carl took no notice of him and went on playing with his own ninepins. Oeri, who had been brought up in a crowded nursery in which he was in constant association with other children, said that he had never encountered such an asocial monster.
Jung wrote that he liked school because he at last found playmates; but also recorded that his efforts to fit in with his rustic schoolmates made it seem that they were alienating him from his true self. Throughout his life Jung remained a solitary person who only felt fully himself when he was alone. In the tower which he built at his country retreat at Bollingen on the upper lake of Zurich, he kept a 'retiring room' to which only he had access and in the last section of his autobiography he wrote:
"As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know."
The other factor in Jung's background which influenced his becoming a guru rather than a mere psychiatrist was his religious background. Jung's father was a pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church. Two of his paternal uncles were also ministers. In addition, his mother was the daughter of a theologian, and five other members of her family were in the church. Jung found the atmosphere at home oppressive. He showed signs of rebelling against conventional Christianity very early in his life.
In his autobiography, Jung recalled the first dream which he could remember, which he said occurred between the ages of three and four. This concerned his discovery of an underground chamber in which a huge phallus, some fifteen feet high, was poised upon a golden throne. This image haunted Jung throughout his youth, and signified to him that there was a subterranean god of a very different kind from the Lord Jesus with whom he was familiar. (Who bases a theology on a dream they had as 3 year old?)
When Jung was eleven or twelve, he had a phantasy which was so shocking to him that, at first, he refused to let it complete itself. He was finally able to do so when he robustly concluded that God himself had put the phantasy into his mind for some purpose which he could not comprehend. Everyone who has read Jung's autobiography will recall his vision of God sitting on a throne above the cathedral of Basel and then letting drop an enormous turd which shatters the cathedral roof. (Pretty weird shit) Jung began to think that God might not be the all-loving deity which conventional Christianity postulated. (So he considered that underground 15 foot high penis to be all-loving?) Perhaps God had a terrible aspect as well. Jung's conventionally minded father refused to enter into discussions about religion with his more gifted son, and told him that he thought too much. According to the Reverend Paul Achilles Jung, who survived until 1896, the year in which Jung reached his majority, one ought not to think; one ought simply to believe.
By late adolescence, Jung had abandoned belief in the religion in which he had been reared. He read very widely, and was particularly influenced by the writings of Schopenhauer and even more so by those of Nietzsche. But, like Nietzsche and others who have been brought up in a strongly religious atmosphere, Jung found it difficult to live without a faith. The whole of his later work can be read as an attempt to discover a substitute for the religious faith which he had lost.
Jung shared with Freud a distaste for revealing anything personal. His autobiography contains very little about his relationships with others. His wife, for example, is hardly mentioned. Jung remains a solitary figure. Freud's psychoanalysis had as its ideal end-point of development a fully mature sexual relationship; whereas Jung's analytical psychology aimed at integration; a new balance of forces within the individual psyche, without reference to personal relationships. It is a point of view very much at odds with current psychological wisdom which tends to promote the idea that mature personal relationships are the only source of true happiness.
Jung's creative illness was prolonged and serious. It began in 1913 and lasted throughout the First World War. He himself concluded that he was 'menaced by a psychosis'. I myself believe that the illness was more than menacing. I think Jung passed through a psychotic episode, which had been foreshadowed by some of his early experiences. As often happens, this illness left traces behind which remained with him until the end of his life.
Jung's parents were not happy together. When Jung was three years old, his mother suffered some kind of breakdown which had required her admission to hospital for several months. Later in childhood, Jung records that his parents were sleeping apart, and that he shared a bedroom with his father.
"From the door to my mother's room came frightening influences. At night mother was strange and mysterious. One night I saw coming from her door a faintly luminous, indefinite figure whose head detached itself from the neck and floated along in front of it, in the air, like a little moon. Immediately another head was produced and again detached itself This process was repeated six or seven times. I had anxiety dreams of things that were now small, now large. For instance, I saw a tiny ball at a great distance; gradually it approached, growing steadily into a monstrous and suffocating object. Or I saw telegraph wires with birds sitting on them, and the wires grew thicker and thicker and my fear greater until the terror awoke me."
These visual hallucinations and distortions closely resemble those described by schizophrenics. Elizabeth Farr, whose outstanding personal account of her schizophrenic illness is given in Ming T. Tsuang's book, Schizophrenia: The Facts, describes a variety of visual distortions. Space appeared to change, so that perspective became disordered and confusing. Her knees would appear to be too big, and would then shrink again, or her feet would seem to be so far away that she believed that her legs had grown longer. Sometimes the walls of a room would appear to expand and contract, as if the room itself was breathing. Any psychiatrist who was told of the experiences listed above, and who also knew how isolated, vulnerable, and hypersensitive he was, would probably think that Jung was a likely candidate for schizophrenia in later life. The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, who was both a paediatrician and a specialist in child analysis, reviewed Jung's autobiography in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. He described Jung as giving a picture of infantile schizophrenia and as being a recovered case of infantile psychosis.
Jung's 'creative illness' or 'mid -life crisis' began with what he describes as being afflicted with a 'period of uncertainty' following the break with Freud. His last actual meeting with Freud had been at the Fourth International Psychoanalytic Congress, held in Munich on September 7th and 8th, 1913. Jung's period of uncertainty was succeeded by a 'sense of pressure' within himself which 'seemed to be moving outwards, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as though the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality.' At this point, Jung began to confuse inner and outer in a way which is characteristic of psychosis. He was attributing an upheaval within his own mind to a disturbance in the external world. In October 1913, he describes being 'seized by an overpowering vision'.
"I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilisation, and the drowned bodies of countless thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about one hour."
The vision repeated itself a week later, with even more blood. Early in 1914 Jung repeatedly dreamed of a new ice age which destroyed all living things. Such visions and dreams of world destruction are frequent precursors of schizophrenic episodes. Eugen Bleuler, who was the chief physician at the Burgholzli hospital where Jung began his psychiatric career, wrote in his textbook on schizophrenia: 'Before the actual onset of the disease, the patients frequently complain about disturbing dreams which keep haunting them during their waking hours.'
But Jung chose to ignore his former chief's teaching, and interpreted his visions and dreams as prophetic; anticipations of the First World War, which broke out a few months later. This interpretation may have convinced Jung that he was not suffering from a psychosis, but it obviously demands belief in precognition. It is also narcissistic, in that it presupposes special insight not granted to others; a presupposition which both Jung and his closest followers willingly accepted. I have already quoted his remark about knowing things of which other people know nothing. Jung seems to have believed that he was the vessel of a higher power which granted him insight into the future. Many of those who have not been able to make relationships on equal terms in childhood have phantasies of being 'special,' of being set above the common herd. Jung was much more gifted and better read than his contemporaries and of course realized this; but his belief that he was a chosen vessel is close to a grandiose delusion.
Jung's illness lasted until nearly the end of the First World War. Its intensity was such that his wife allowed Toni Wolff, Jung's mistress for nearly thirty years, to become a member of the household because she was the only person who could calm him down. Jung describes his illness as a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious, a scientific experiment. He then reverses this statement by saying that it was an experiment which was being conducted on him. He wrote: 'It is, of course, ironical that I, a psychiatrist, should at almost every step of my experiment have run into the same psychic material which is the stuff of psychosis and is found in the insane'. I think it simpler and more accurate to say that Jung passed through a psychotic episode which demanded a great deal of patient support from both his wife and his mistress. Although I wrote earlier that I did not accept R. D. Laing's theory that psychosis is a path to higher wisdom, there are a few cases of rather acute episodes of psychotic illness from which the patient emerges changed and perhaps enriched, and this sequence of events appears to be particularly common in those who become gurus, because the revelation which enriches them forms the basis of their subsequent teaching. Jung certainly suffered from hallucinations and episodes of depersonalization. He withdrew from teaching at the university and found himself incapable of reading scientific literature. During these years, he wrote very little. At one point, he felt that his house became crowded with spirits which he concluded were the spirits of the dead. 'From that time on, the dead have become ever more distinct for me as the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed'. His response was to write the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, which John Kerr describes as 'a thoroughly grandiose, almost paranoid tract that combines Gnostic terminology with the style of Thus Spake Zarathustra to arrive at a deliberately obscure text ringing with the plaints of self-justification'. I think that this extraordinary work owes more to Schopenhauer than to Nietzsche, and that Kerr's judgement is unduly harsh; but the obscurity of the piece is indisputable.
Jung himself said that the whole of his later work was based upon this long, stressful period. 'The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life - in them everything essential was decided."' Jung had been nearly overwhelmed, but his illness taught him that pari passu with the disintegration taking place within his mind, there was also a healing process which was striving to make sense of his experience and achieve a new integration. As John Kerr has perceived, Jung 'was able to observe his own dissolution with exquisite exactitude, and the observation itself became a kind of therapy'. Jung's illness and subsequent illumination is an exceptionally fascinating example of the distress of chaos followed by the relief of a new order. It is interesting that, as early as 1898, Jung quotes from Nietzsche's Zarathustra: 'I tell you, one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star.' Twenty years later, this is what happened to Jung. He called his journey toward a new integration the 'individuation process'; a concept which may originally have been derived from his reading of Schopenhauer, in whose thought the principium individuationis plays an important part.
What he had discovered was that, although his conscious ego might be both threatened and helpless, it was possible to learn to listen to, and depend upon, an inner voice which manifested itself in dreams, phantasies, and other spontaneous derivatives of the unconscious. One of Jung's most fruitful ideas is that the psyche is self-regulating. His medical training had taught him that human physiology is a system of checks and balances which ensure that any tendency to go too far in one direction is compensated by an opposing swing in the other. These homeostatic mechanisms are dependent upon negative feedback. For example, fluctuations in blood sugar are reported to a central control which promptly sets in motion compensatory changes to restore the normal balance. Jung suggested that similar mechanisms occurred in mental illness. A person who becomes neurotic (or, in some instances, psychotic) is someone who has strayed from his own true path of development, perhaps because of intellectual arrogance, extreme extraversion or introversion, or perhaps from letting himself be overpersuaded or influenced by someone else. And just as there is a central control which governs human physiology, so there is also a central control which governs the individual's psyche. Neither control system is accessible to the conscious will; but there is a wisdom of the psyche as well as a wisdom of the body.
This seems to me to be an eminently sensible idea which finds confirmation in clinical practice. It can certainly be applied to cases which every psychiatrist has seen. For example, ambitious men who habitually overwork to the point of neglecting everything else which makes life worth living often break down in mid-life with a severe depression. This can be interpreted as the psyche's attempt at self regulation. They are compelled by illness to slow down and reconsider their values. But formulating the idea of psychological self-regulation had a special meaning for Jung beyond the matter-of fact exposition which I have just given. One of Jung's problems was his loss of religious faith. During his illness, he discovered that he had to submit to being guided by something within himself which was independent of his conscious intention. Could this be the psychological equivalent of God - a kind of 'God within' rather than 'God out there'?
If this was the case, then Jung could claim that he had discovered an answer to his own loss of faith; a psychological substitute for religion as well as a curative process. As I wrote elsewhere, the process of individuation could be described as 'a kind of Pilgrim's Progress without a creed, aiming not at heaven, but at integration and wholeness.
In 1910, Jung had written a letter to Freud in which he discussed the possibility of joining a new society, Knapp's International Fraternity for Ethics and Culture, called I.F. for short.
"Religion can be replaced only by religion. Is there perchance a new saviour in the I.F.? What sort of new myth does it hand out for us to live by? Only the wise are ethical from sheer intellectual presumption, the rest of us need the eternal truth of myth.
You will see from this string of associations that the problem does not leave me simply apathetic and cold. The ethical problem of sexual freedom really is enormous and worth the sweat of all noble souls. But 2000 years of Christianity can only be replaced by something equivalent."
This letter demonstrates how devastating his abandonment of conventional Christianity had been to him. Jung became a psychiatrist at the Burgholzli in 1900, nearly seven years before he first met Freud, and always claimed that he was critical of some of Freud's ideas from the beginning. However, A. A. Brill, who was an assistant at the Burgholzli when Jung was working there, reports that 'Jung was at that time the most ardent Freudian'. Perhaps Freudian psychoanalysis, like conventional Christianity, was for Jung another light that failed, another faith that had to be abandoned, which left him bereaved and rudderless. It was only after his final parting with Freud that Jung was compelled to discover his own myth, even if he had to pass through a psychotic illness to do so.
When Jung became established as a world-famous figure, he specialized in treating a particular variety of patient. He described these people as suffering from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives, rather than from any clinically definable neurosis. Most of them were successful, gifted, apparently well adapted, and middle aged. Yet they had nothing to live by; no religious faith, no myth, not even a delusional system. Jung described these people as 'stuck' in that they had lost any sense of progress toward a goal. They lacked what a religious belief might have given them; faith, hope, love, and understanding, which Jung defined as the four highest achievements of human endeavour, but which he also claimed to be 'gifts of grace' which cannot be taught or learned, but which only come through experience.
"Among all my patients in the second half of life - that is to say, over thirty-five - there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing to do with a particular creed or membership of a church."
One can argue that Jung may have attributed his own problem to these patients. However, most psychiatrists have some experience of people who are desperately in search of a meaning in life, but who are not psychiatrically ill in the conventional sense. In fact, this group of people often turn to gurus of far less integrity than Jung.
Although Jung thought that his personal experience of enlightenment was relevant to the cases described above, he did not believe that the spiritual journey which he called individuation should be undertaken by everyone. He considered that his message only applied to people in the second half of life; that younger people might well find that Freudian or Adlerian analysis was better suited to their needs. Jung's estimate of his own work was contradictory. On the one hand, he claimed that it was scientific, and could be verified by others. On the other hand, he called it a subjective confession.
The received wisdom has been that Jung differed from most gurus in that he did not try to force his conclusions on others, and resisted the setting up of institutions to promote his ideas for many years. However, Richard Noll, in his book The Jung Cult, prints a recently discovered document which appears to be a transcript of Jung's address inaugurating the first Jungian association, the Psychological Club in Zurich. Noll claims that this address was inaugurating a 'secret church' consisting of a few persons who had travelled the road of individuation, as sign-posted by Jung himself, which would develop, and was designed to develop, into a world wide religious movement. I doubt this. I suppose that, given Jung's originality and charisma, it would be almost impossible that he should not collect around him a number of disciples who had accepted his views of the unconscious, who had been analysed by Jung himself or one of his close associates, and who wanted a forum in which Jung's ideas would constitute the principal focus of discussion. But this is not to imply that Jung wanted to found a new sect or a world-wide movement led by an elite group of the successfully individuated, as Noll suggests.
"For literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of individuals in our culture, Jung and his ideas are the basis of a personal religion that either supplants their participation in traditional organized Judaeo-Christian religion or accompanies it. For this latter group especially, the Jungian experience, as it is promoted by its specialized caste of analysts, holds out the promise of mystery and the direct experience of the transcendent that they do not experience in any church or synagogue."
Noll greatly exaggerates the number of Jungian adherents. There have never been very many 'Jungians' in the world; not nearly as many as there are 'Freudians'. Moreover, Noll gives the impression that Jung and his followers constitute a single 'church' the world over, proffering the same teaching, and primarily motivated by the desire to obtain money from their analysands. Noll refers to 'a vast international network' of Jungian organizations, and calls Jungian analysis a 'capitalist enterprise.' In fact, there has been so much dissension that, in London alone, there were four incompatible groups all owing some allegiance to Jung. The idea of a universal Jungian church cannot really be sustained. Noll has constructed a conspiracy theory which does not bear examination.
Although Jung was greatly superior to most gurus in intellect, education, and integrity, he nevertheless shared with them a number of characteristics. He certainly thought of himself as a spiritual leader rather than as a psychiatrist treating neurotics. I first realized this on the only occasion on which I met him, on April 14, 1951. At that time, he was writing his controversial book, Answer to Job. 'What I'm writing now,' he told me, 'is pure poison. But I owe it to my people.' I was taken aback by this remark at the time, for I knew that no ordinary psychiatrist would talk like that of 'my people': that is the statement of a guru. Jung's discipleship might be small, but he had no doubts about his position. Marie-Louise von Franz, the most intelligent of the group of female disciples who surrounded Jung records that he told her that Answer to Job was the only one of his books which he did not want to rewrite. It certainly propounds a 'kingly unconventional view of the Deity, Jung was actually quite funny about conventional Christians. He told me that Archbishop William Temple had recently visited him, and that he had found him 'too much a Prince of the Church'. Jung asked Temple whether he thought the Virgin Birth was literally true, but Temple refused to face the question. 'Either Mary was a Virgin or Jesus was a civilian', was how Jung described Temple's dilemma.
Although Jung referred to his ideas as a subjective confession, and said that he did not want to force them on others, there is no doubt that he believed that he had privileged access to a realm beyond consciousness. When John Freeman interviewed Jung on television in October 1959, he asked him: 'Do you now believe in God?' Jung famously replied: 'Now? Difficult to answer. I know. I don't need to believe. I know.' When talking about dreams, Jung said to me: 'Every night you have the chance of the Eucharist'; and I have been told that the coterie of close disciples who knew him well waited hopefully each morning to hear if the great man had had another significant message from the unconscious.
Jung was not corrupt financially: since he had married a rich wife in -1903, he was not tempted to be so. But he was far from indifferent to wealthy supporters, and took pains to cultivate them. He made some of his rich American patients like Fowler McCormick and the Mellons into friends who put up money for various Jungian enterprises, including the valuable Bollingen series of books, named after his country retreat.
He did have affairs with at least two of his patients, Sabina Spielrein and Toni Wolff. The former is referred to, but not named, in his autobiography and in his correspondence with Freud. Although the seduction of patients is a professional misdemeanour, one has to remember that Spielrein was one of Jung's first analytical cases; that he certainly helped her; and that psychoanalytic rules were not yet codified. Although Toni Wolff had initially been one of Jung's patients, she did not become his mistress until long after her initial, successful treatment had ended and she had become an assistant and then a colleague. I do not think that Jung can be accused of exploiting his followers, either financially or sexually. Jung was a Victorian paterfamilias, but I know of no evidence that he used his dominant position to make unreasonable demands on his followers.
Jung was certainly elitist. He wrote: 'As a Swiss I am an inveterate democrat, yet I recognize that Nature is aristocratic, and, what is even more, esoteric. "Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi" is an unpleasant but eternal truth.' Jung passionately believed that the individual was the carrier of value, and that it was personal religious experience akin to his own which prevented the individual from dissolving in the crowd, or mindlessly adhering to some collective belief system like Communism.
Jung has sometimes been criticized for proposing that there is a 'collective unconscious'; a level of mind responsible for producing myths, visions, religious ideas and certain varieties of dream which are common to many cultures and to many periods of history. But this idea, in its simplest form, seems perfectly sensible. Man's anatomy and physiology have not greatly altered during the period of his existence on earth. It seems reasonable to assume that, although our knowledge and skills have greatly increased, the way the brain and mind function is basically the same as it always has been since homo sapiens first appeared. Myths, visions, religious ideas, and dreams are often expressive of fundamental psychological experiences which are common to all men. For example, the hero myths found in many cultures can be interpreted as myths about growing-up; its anxieties, tribulations, and rewards. We all have to pass from the state of being a helpless child to being an independent adult, capable of starting a new family. Hero myths tell a story of a child, often the youngest, embarking on a dangerous journey, facing perils, killing monsters, rescuing a beautiful maiden, and finally winning a bride and perhaps a throne. This is what Jung would call an 'archetypal' myth; a story found in different cultures all over the world which reflects basic aspects of the human condition. It seems perfectly understandable that there should be a substratum of mind, as common to all men as the structure of the brain, which produces the same kinds of myths about the human condition, and the same kinds of cosmogonies.
But Jung goes further than this, to a point where many cannot follow him. When Jung was an adolescent, he was, as I have indicated, deeply influenced by Schopenhauer, who himself owed a great deal to Kant. Schopenhauer realized that human perception of reality is limited by the construction of the human perceptual apparatus. We are bound to perceive objects in the external world as existing in space and time and as being governed by causal relations, and we cannot transcend the limitations which our concepts of space, time, and causality impose upon us. Schopenhauer concluded that we can never perceive objects as things in themselves; that we can only perceive their representations. If this is true, it follows that there must be an underlying reality in which things in themselves exist independently of human perception.
However, it follows that the underlying reality postulated must be one in which objects are not differentiated: in other words, a unity. For abolishing the categories of space, time, and causal limitations necessarily makes it impossible to distinguish one object from another. Schopenhauer is resuscitating the medieval concept of the unus mundus; the notion that there is an ultimate unity outside the categories of time and space, and beyond the Cartesian separation of reality into mental and physical. Schopenhauer took over Plato's theory that Ideas, as ideal examples of Truth, Justice, Goodness and so on, existed as definable entities in some realm outside time.
Jung embraced this notion wholeheartedly. He equated archetypes with Platonic Ideas, and wrote:
"there are present in every psyche forms which are unconscious but nonetheless active - living dispositions, ideas in the Platonic sense, that pre-form and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions."
That archetypes are present in every psyche is easy to accept, for the reasons given above. But many people will find more difficult to believe, as Plato, Schopenhauer, and Jung certainly did believe, that there is an objective order beyond the human psyche and the world of phenomena, including causality and time, in which Ideas or archetypes exist eternally. In his later writings, Jung more often refers to the collective unconscious as the objective psyche. In the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, referred to earlier, Jung uses the Gnostic term pleroma to refer to an underlying 'nothing and everything' in which there are no opposites like good and evil, beautiful and ugly, time and space, or force and matter, because they are equally balanced. All opposites are a product of the Creation, the division of the world into distinct processes in space and time.
Since Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle established that the position and velocity of particles could not simultaneously be determined because the act of observation influenced their behaviour, it has been impossible to show that atomic processes obey the laws of causality. Jung believed that the same was true in psychology, since the observer could not be separated from what he observed, and making the contents of the unconscious conscious altered the way in which each division of the mind functioned.
Jung thought that the physicist's investigation of matter and the psychologist's investigation of mind were different ways of approaching the same underlying reality. 'Heisenberg argued that ultimate reality is to be found not in electrons, mesons, and protons but in something that lies beyond them, in abstract symmetries that manifest themselves in the material world and could be taken as the scientific descendants of Plato's ideal forms. In Jung's view, this underlying reality was neither mind nor matter, but something which partook of both which he called 'psychoid'. Pauli, a world-renowned physicist who was also Jung's patient, thought that Jung's theories bridged the gap between subjective and objective which has plagued modern physics. He also postulated an underlying cosmic order distinct from the world of phenomena. David Bohm's 'implicate order' is another example of the same idea. The orders of matter, space, and time may all be explicate manifestations of an underlying implicate order.
Acceptance of the idea that there is a realm in which causality does not, or cannot be proved to, operate opens the door to other possibilities. Jung came to believe that there was an acausal principle which linked events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He called this principle synchronicity. Many people have been puzzled by what seem to be meaningful coincidences, but are content to assume that there are rational explanations for such things within the causal framework. For instance, a previously unfamiliar name seems to manifest itself with surprising frequency only because we have just become aware of it. Dreams and external events sometimes coincide: it would be surprising if they did not.
But Jung gives very few instances of synchronous happenings, and those which he does give are repeated several times in different places in his collected works. One favourite example is of a patient who had a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. Whilst she was recounting the dream, a rose-chafer beetle, which resembles a scarab, knocked against the window-pane and was caught by Jung as it flew in. Is this coincidence or a manifestation of synchrony between mind and the phenomenal world? Another is the story reported of Swedenborg, who, while he was in Gothenburg in 1756, had a vision of a great fire raging in Stockholm during the time it was actually taking place. This latter example also demonstrates consistency in Jung's view of the world, since it first occurs in one of the lectures which he gave to the Zofingia student fraternity when he was still a medical student. Synchronicity entered Jung's vocabulary at a later date: at the time of this lecture, May 1897, Jung describes Swedenborg's vision as clairvoyant, adding that his audience must be content with this one example, since it would be a waste of time to cite additional cases. 'Anyone who has ever taken a look at the relevant literature can easily discover any number of cases substantiating this phenomenon'. Can they? I doubt it.
I have already quoted from David Peat's book on synchronicity which is subtitled "The Bridge Between Matter and Mind". Although I am not wholly persuaded, Peat makes out a good case for supposing that synchronicity is compatible with the views of the universe advanced by modern physicists, and we are not justified in supposing that Jung's espousal of synchronicity is in any way comparable with the science fictions of Ouspensky or Gurdjieff.
Jung's interest in the occult goes back to before the time of his doctoral dissertation, On the Psychology and Pathology of so-called Occult Phenomena. In one of his lectures to the Zofingia student fraternity he affirmed his belief in spiritualism, more particularly in the materialization of mysterious hands which he claimed had been photographed. It is fair to say that, at that date, many intelligent philosophers and scientists were inclined to believe in spiritualism.
When I met him in 1951, he told me with evident relish that the inhabitants of the villages near Zurich still believed in magic and in local medicine men. For example, a schoolteacher became neurotic after his father's death. It turned out that, in a fit of pique, the teacher had driven a nail into the father's favourite apple tree. The father made no comment, but soon became ill and died. Two cows were found with their horns locked together and their necks through the same halter in a way so unnatural that no one could make out how they could have got like that. Was it witchcraft? 'One doesn't talk about these things,' said Jung.
Jung had more than a passing interest in astrology. In a letter to Freud dated 12 June, 1911, he described his evenings as being taken up with horoscopic calculations. 'I dare say that we shall one day discover in astrology a good deal of knowledge that has been intuitively projected into the heavens'. In a letter written in 1970, the art historian Edgar Wind recalls a meeting with Jung.
"The conversation with Jung (which took place in the middle thirties in London) was confined to one subject - astrology. He explained that he had calculated his own horoscope and, by doing so, had learned a great deal about himself, and that he often recommended it to his patients, who likewise learned a great deal about themselves by that method. I then asked him whether he meant that astrology (as the official practitioners assert) is a science that enables you to predict future events, or merely that a horoscope can be used as a schematic substratum -just as coffee grounds or a pack of cards is used by prophetic gypsies, or a crystal ball by a crystal-gazer - to arouse the imagination and project into the schema certain images that unconsciously occupy your mind. He burst out laughing and said that of course he meant the second, but that if he told that to his patients it would not work. I replied that, in view of the fact that I was not his patient, he should perhaps not use with me the same mystifying language that he might find appropriate in the consulting room. But he did not agree with that at all. What was good for his patients and for himself was good for everybody, and if I declined to calculate my own horoscope, this merely showed that I had a resistance to learning to know myself a little better."
Jung thought that there were long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche which corresponded with the ancient idea of the Platonic year in which the earth's axis revolves round an imaginary point in the course of some 25,000 years. At intervals of approximately 2,100 years there is a shift in the vernal equinox. Adopting the prophetic role which he had formerly repudiated, he considered it his duty to warn that vast changes were imminent, although he realized that most scientists and psychologists would dismiss these ideas as rubbish.
"It is not presumption that drives me, but my conscience as a psychiatrist that bids me fulfil my duty and prepare those few who will hear me for coming events which are in accord with the end of an era. As we know from ancient Egyptian history, they are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently they are changes in the constellation of psychic dominants, of the archetypes or 'gods' as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche. This transformation started in the historical era and left its traces first in the passing of the aeon of Taurus into that of Aries, and then of Aries into Pisces, whose beginning coincides with the rise of Christianity. We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the spring-point enters Aquarius."
Jung certainly believed that his superior insight and special grasp of unconscious processes justified his assumption of the prophetic mantle. 'It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important'.
Jung's loss of faith, first in orthodox Christianity, later in Freudian psychoanalysis, led to his discovery of God in the unconscious. Naturally enough, he believed that his variety of analysis could be the answer for others who found themselves distressed because of a similar loss of faith. But, to my mind, he failed to consider other solutions. Jung became angry when Sabina Spielrein suggested that the phantasies with which he was wrestling might be something to do with art. Because he rated religion as being of far greater significance than art, Jung had to interpret the healing factor which he perceived as active within his own psyche as a religious phenomenon. Yet the mandalas which he found himself painting, which he interpreted as symbols of 'wholeness', could equally well have been understood as aesthetic, rather than religious, ways of ordering the chaos of conflicting emotions which beset him.
In another book, I compared Jung's loss of faith with Nietzsche's. Nietzsche agreed with Jung in thinking that it was necessary to depend upon something other than the ego; but Nietzsche used the language of aesthetics to describe his search for meaning and order. Although Nietzsche eventually succumbed to general paresis, I think that his perception of the problem which faced both Jung and himself was equally convincing. Both men recognized that conscious striving is not enough; that the processes which make coherent sense out of existence proceed unconsciously and cannot be willed, although the right conscious attitude may promote their progress. But Nietzsche's vision is the wider one. He realized that there were a number of different ideals to which men could devote themselves which could make life worthwhile, including music and art. As Roger Scruton wrote: 'If proof is needed of the ease with which the aesthetic may replace the religious as an object of philosophical interest, it is to be found in the thought and the personality of Nietzsche. Jung continued to place religion in a separate, superior category.
Jung, like others who become gurus, was originally an isolated child. There is a sense in which he remained isolated, as he himself recognized. Indeed, one critic of his autobiography referred to his insane self-absorption'. I don't know of any other analyst - except for Jung's close followers - who writes so little about personal relationships, so much about self-development. His narcissistic needs may have made him unscrupulous sexually, but he behaved no worse than many other men who are gifted with great energy and drive. He was not a confidence trickster or manipulative. Some of his beliefs bordered on delusion; but his period of mental illness opened doors of perception which are closed to normal people. As compared with the beliefs of Gurdjieff and Steiner, the views of the universe propounded by Jung seem only mildly eccentric. Yet he shared with them a conviction that he was right, that he knew, which disdained evidence and which is based on subjective revelation following his breakdown rather than upon observation and proof.
Jung was an impressive figure even in old age; tall, powerful, both humorous and serious, and a far more fluent talker than writer. He was highly intelligent and immensely well read. Those who find themselves frustratingly confused by Jung's writings should turn to the verbatim reports of his seminars which reveal him as an accomplished off-the-cuff speaker both in German and in English. His charisma was based upon his certainty that he was right, but was reinforced by his verbal fluency and by his ability to quote support for his doctrines from innumerable obscure sources. Jung's contributions to psychology and psychotherapy have been underestimated, because of the revelatory, unproveable basis upon which they rest, and the general perception that he is a difficult writer preoccupied with esoteric subjects. Although conventionally-minded sceptics like myself are likely to regard some of Jung's beliefs as eccentric, this is not a reason for dismissing everything which he wrote. His conception of the psyche as a self-regulating system is illuminating. His typology of introvert and extravert has been adopted by experimental psychologists. He made original contributions to psychotherapy which are important and lasting. Because of his own experience, he drew attention to a phenomenon which has not received the investigation it deserves: the need which those who have lost their faith feel for something to replace it, and the dangers which threaten us all when whole populations worship dictators like Stalin and Mao rather than a god beyond the skies. Experimental psychologists, for the most part, do not feel the need to believe in anything other than science; but experimental psychologists are only a tiny fraction of mankind.
Jung was a guru who saw the light, who generalized from his own experience, who abandoned the scientific tradition in which he had been trained, and who knew that he was right. In spite of this, he made valuable contributions to psychology and to our perception of human nature.
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