Born in Switzerland, Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), along with Sigmund Freud, became the most well known psychiatrist of the twentieth century and possibly of all time.
In his little book ‘Decoding Jung’s metaphysics’, philosopher Bernardo Kastrup analyses Jung’s metaphysics. In other words: What is beyond what we think of as the physical world? Or in Kastrup’s words: A metaphysics of nature entails a certain view about what nature is in and of itself, as opposed to how it behaves (which is the study of science).
According to Kastrup, Jung hid his thoughts about this in his writing, because he was first and foremost a scientist. But Kastrup makes it obvious that Jung was also very much an idealist philosopher, which means that he thought that mind is primary in nature. In Jung’s view, the psyche holds the body rather than the other way around.
Famous principles in Jung’s work are archetypes, the collective unconscious and synchronicity, all principles that fit the idealist view very nicely. Jung considers the unconscious integral to the psyche. Sometimes, experiences in the unconscious can potentially cross the boundary and enter ego-consciousness. That is clearly an idealist position: There is only one mind (mind-at-large) and egos are localisations of this mind-at large or collective unconscious (or for the Dutch reader: Fragmenten uit het Schemerland). Content of this collective unconscious could potentially enter the ego-mind. Jung refers to these experiences as ‘psychoid’.
Jung describes archetypes as unconscious, but nonetheless active-living dispositions, ideas in the Platonic sense, that perform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions. These ideas have effects which have an organizing influence on the contents of consciousness.
For instance, the inner life and behavior of a mother towards her child is largely determined by the so-called ‘mother archetype’, a mode of being and acting that is inherited by every woman and constellated by the presence of the child. These behaviours are thus not learned, but inborn. They correspond to the primordial templates of the collective unconscious (the larger mind) as they assert themselves by impinging on ego-consciousness.
The archetypes cannot be apprehended in and of themselves. All we can assess is the organising effects on our ego-consciousness. This is once again an idealist perspective. All we know, and can ever know for certain, is what we directly perceive. We cannot observe archetypes directly. All we have is the images, dreams and visions they help create. An archetype is a tendency that ‘tends’ to express itself in a certain way, Kastrup writes.
Each archetype can manifest itself to a variety of images, feelings and spontaneous behavioural patterns, all of which symbolize – or point to – a message. Our deeper dreams, visions, passions and impulsive actions thus have a meaning and can be interpreted, if only we pay attention to them. Taken together, the archetypal manifestations in our lives – in both dream and waking states – form a symbolic narrative meant to show to ego-consciousness what is going on in the unconscious. It is up to the Jung-analyst to unravel the meaning of these narratives.
Synchronicity is described by Jung as the simultaneous occurrence of a certain physic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state. As an example, Jung famously reported an incident he witnessed during a therapy session. The female patient he was seeing related a dream in which she was given a golden scarab, an important archetypal symbol of rebirth. As she was recounting the dream, an insect began knocking on the window. Jung let it in and found it was a rose chafer beetle, an insect that looks very much like a scarab.
How can these strong links occur between the mind and physical world when there is only causality? According to Kastrup, who decoded Jung’s work, Jung believed in a non-local, organising foundation of nature. If the ego-mind and the physical world both arise from this deeper (mental) foundation, then these meaningful coincidences start to make a whole lot more sense. This is once again an idealistic proposition.
And so, the inescapable conclusion is that Jung was an idealist who thought that nature is in and of itself consciousness.
More on Kastrup’s writing can be found on his website.
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