Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Short Jungian Interlude 4

The Problem of Self-Knowledge

Jungian Mandala
If there is one thing most philosophers and psychologists agree upon it is the difficulty we have in getting to know ourselves.  Indeed can we really know ourselves is a question that concerns both subject areas.  Jung entitles his fourth chapter The Individual's Understanding of Himself.  Here follow the prescient words of our learned psychiatrist:

The contradiction, the paradoxical evaluation of humanity by man himself, is in truth a matter for wonder, and one can only explain it as springing from an extraordinary uncertainty of judgement - in other words man is an enigma to himself.  This is understandable, seeing that he lacks the means of comparison necessary for self-knowledge.  He knows how to distinguish himself from other animals in point of anatomy and physiology, but as a conscious reflecting being, gifted with speech, he lacks all criteria for self-judgement.  He is on this planet a unique phenomenon he cannot compare with anything else.  The possibility of comparison and hence of self-knowledge would arise only if he could establish relations with quasi-human mammals inhabiting other stars. (sic, presumably he means other planets!)  (op. cit., pp.  31-32)
In a sense, then, Jung is beginning in a Socratic fashion, acknowledging first our ignorance of ourselves in depth and then proceeding from there.  This is a classical approach to epistemology or the theory of knowledge.  Certainly we know little about ourselves on an unconscious level.  To expand our self-knowledge in that area is the goal of all kinds of psycho-therapeutic approaches.  Jung is also correct where he states that psychology is the youngest of the empirical sciences.  I have already alluded many times in these pages to the fact that Dr. Sigmund Freud, scientific researcher, medical doctor and psychiatrist always considered his brainchild psychoanalysis to be a science.  Whether this is true or not would require my going off on an altogether unrelated tangent here, but I have written about that controversy here before, and if the reader wishes to explore that he should search for the relevant post.

Then, Jung uses quite a relevant metaphor where he contends that what is needed is no less than a Copernican revolution in psychology akin to that in astronomy.  However, he also cautions balance in any such a revolution.  The mystery of the psyche must certainly be freed from the spell of mythological ideas that are used literally.  In other words the mind or psyche is not "a wholly unapproachable and recondite matter" on the one hand or "a mere epiphenomenon of a biochemical process in the brain." (Ibid., p. 32)  In short the mind is neither one nor the other but both at the same time.  Fine, the psyche is unique and has hidden depths and hidden heights that colour each individual so differently - in this sense it is an enigma - but it is also a chemical phenomenon, too.  How these two aspects of the psyche inter-relate is extremely complex and is obviously still a complex and perplexing problem for psychologists and philosophers today even.  Jung also cautions his readers not to dismiss too cavalierly the findings of parapsychology.  In short, the mind which somehow "inhabits" the human brain ascends to a consciousness "beyond" the brain.  It would seem also that it descends to an unconsciousness "below" the brain.  These directional prepositions and verbs of ascent and descent are mine not Jung's, but I believe I am capturing what he is getting at in these pages:




Without consciousness there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists as such only in so far as it is consciously reflected and consciously expressed by a psyche.  Consciousness is a precondition of being.  Thus the psyche is endowed with the dignity of a cosmic principle, which philosophically and in fact gives it a position co-equal with the principle of physical being.  The carrier of this consciousness is the individual, who does not produce the psyche on his own volition but is, on the contrary preformed by it and nourished by the gradual awakening of consciousness during childhood.  If the psyche must be granted an overriding empirical importance, so also must the individual, who is the only immediate manifestation of the psyche.  (Ibid., p. 34)

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