Decoding Jung's Metaphysics: Prelude


Today my new book, Decoding Jung's Metaphysics, is being published. To celebrate the occasion, I am reproducing below Chapter 1, 'Prelude,' of that work. Enjoy!


Prelude

Call it not vain—that lofty thought
Which peoples heaven with visioned lore,
So that each star of light is fraught
With some fair chronicle of yore:—
Call it not vain, though earthly vision
May not peruse that page Elysian,
But strive to read it in vain;
Mind will the links of form supply,
Of forms that never more may die,—
To mind they are all plain.

Leopold J. Bernays, from the poem The Constellations, published in the appendix of his translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1839)

Born on the margins of Lake Constance, in Kesswil, Switzerland, in the summer of 1875, Carl Gustav Jung was one of the most important figures of early modern psychology. Together with Sigmund Freud, he pioneered the systematic exploration of the depths of the human psyche beyond the threshold of direct introspection, a mysterious realm he and Freud called ‘the unconscious.’ Both men discerned tremendous significance in aspects of our inner lives that had hitherto been neglected by science, particularly dreams.

The author, sitting on the margins of Lake Constance, across from where Jung was born.

However, unlike Freud—who thought of the unconscious as merely a passive repository of forgotten or repressed contents of consciousness—for Jung the unconscious was an active, creative matrix with a psychic life, will and language of its own, often at odds with our conscious dispositions. It is this aspect of his thinking that led Jung down avenues of empirical investigation and speculation rich with metaphysical significance. This little book is about those extraordinary speculations and their philosophical implications.

As we shall soon find out, for Jung life and world are something very different from what our present mainstream metaphysics—materialism—posits. The conclusions of his lifelong studies point to the continuation of psychic life beyond bodily death, a much more intimate and direct relationship between matter and psyche than most would dare imagine today, and a living universe pregnant with symbolic meaning. For him life is, quite literally, a kind of dream, and interpretable as such.

Jung was many things: psychiatrist, psychologist, historian, classicist, mythologist, painter, sculptor and even—as some would argue with good reasons—a mystic. But he expressly avoided identifying himself as a philosopher, lest such a label detract from the image of empirical scientist that he wanted to project. Nonetheless, much of what Jung had to say about the psyche has unavoidable and rather remarkable philosophical implications, not only concerning the mind-body problem, but also the very nature of reality itself. Moreover, when he was being less guarded—which was often—Jung made overt philosophical statements. For these reasons, as I hope to make clear in this book, Jung ultimately proved to be a philosopher, even a very good one.

In the pages that follow, I shall first attempt to tease out the most important metaphysical implications of Jung’s ideas on the nature and behavior of the psyche. Second, I shall try to relate Jung’s many overt metaphysical contentions to those implications. Third, based on the previous two points, I shall try to reconstruct what I believe to have been Jung’s implicit metaphysical system, demonstrating its internal consistency, as well as its epistemic and empirical adequacy. I shall argue that Jung was a metaphysical idealist in the tradition of German Idealism, his system being particularly consistent with that of Arthur Schopenhauer and my own.

The consistency between Jung’s metaphysics and my own is no coincidence. Unlike Schopenhauer—whose work I’ve discovered only after having developed my system in seven different books—Jung has been a very early influencer of my thought. I first came across his work still in my early teens, during a family holiday in the mountains. Exploring on my own the village where we were staying, I chanced upon a small bookshop. There, displayed very prominently, was an intriguing book titled I Ching, edited and translated by Richard Wilhelm, with a foreword by one Carl Gustav Jung. Jung’s introduction to the book revealed the internal logic and root of plausibility of what I would otherwise have regarded as just a silly oracle. He had opened some kind of door in my mind. Little did I know, then, how far that door would eventually take me.

Jung’s hand in my work can probably be discerned in many more passages than I myself am aware of, for I have internalized his thought so deeply over the years that I don’t doubt I sometimes conflate his ideas with mine. Moreover, Jung’s image has been a perennial presence in both my intellectual and emotional inner lives. In moments of stress, anxiety or hopelessness, I often visualize myself in conversation with him—he would have called it ‘active imagination’—so as to envision what he would have had to say about my situation. This level of intimacy hopefully helps me represent Jung’s thought accurately and fairly in this volume. The reader should have no doubt that doing so is of utmost importance to me.

Naturally, it is also conceivable that the same intimacy could hamper my objectivity, leading me—surreptitiously and unintentionally—to pass an idiosyncratic amalgamation of his views and mine for his metaphysics. To guard against this risk, I’ve re-read—for the third or fourth time in my life—all of Jung’s relevant works in preparation for writing this volume. I have also reproduced relevant excerpts of Jung’s writings to substantiate my case, only making assertions I could trace back to multiple passages in their corresponding context. This, I hope, ensures the objectivity and accuracy of my interpretations.

Jung has written over twenty thick volumes of material over his long and productive life. Much of it is limited to clinical psychology or mythology and has little metaphysical significance. The material that does have metaphysical relevance, however, is still quite extensive.

The author, with a red pyramidal lake stone uncannily reminiscent of the one Jung describes in his autobiography.

So whenever Jung’s views changed—substantially or simply in terms of nuances—over the years, I have prioritized his later writing. In addition, Jung’s metaphysical views seem to have congealed only towards the end of his professional life, which renders his earlier writings less relevant. For these two reasons, my argument is based mostly on works he wrote from the 1940s onwards, with two exceptions: the edited transcripts of his Terry Lectures, held at Yale University in 1937-1938, and a collection of essays published in 1933. Both provide tantalizing early insights into Jung’s growing confidence regarding his metaphysical views.

It is important to notice that, regardless of the period in which it was written, Jung’s discourse on metaphysics and related topics comes nowhere near the level of conceptual clarity, consistency and precision that today’s analytic philosophers demand. Jung was an extremely intuitive thinker who favored analogies, similes and metaphors over direct and unambiguous exposition, appearing to frequently contradict himself. This happened because he didn’t use linear argument structures, but instead circumambulated—a handy Jungian term meaning ‘to walk round about’—the topic in question in an effort to convey the full gamut of his intuitions about it. Indeed, he didn’t arrive at his views purely through steps of reasoning to begin with, but largely through visionary experience. It is thus only natural that he should express these views in an intuitive, analogical manner.

In this context, Jung’s many seeming contradictions reflect attempts to explore a theme from several different perspectives and reference points. For instance, if he claims that the psyche is material, just to turn around and say that it is spiritual, he means that there is a sense in which the psyche is analogous to what we call ‘matter’ and another sense in which it is analogous to what we call ‘spirit,’ each sense anchored in its own implicit reference point. It is these radical and sudden flips of perspective—confusing and aggravating for an analytic disposition as they are—that help Jung delineate and express his views in a way that appeals to more than just reason.

Before closing this brief introduction, a few notes on terminology are required. Throughout this book—unless otherwise stated—I try to stick to the same terms and denotations that Jung himself used, even though his terminology is now largely outdated. I’ve done so to maintain consistency with his corpus. For instance, Jung defines ‘consciousness’ as something considerably more specific than what philosophers today refer to as ‘phenomenal consciousness’ or simply ‘consciousness’ (this, in fact, has been the source of endless misunderstandings of Jung’s work). So, unless I explicitly write ‘phenomenal consciousness,’ I use the terms ‘consciousness’ and ‘conscious’ according to Jung’s own restrictive definition.

Some of the other terms I use have both colloquial and technical philosophical meanings, which unfortunately differ. I try to consistently use those terms in their technical sense. By the term ‘metaphysics,’ for instance, I don’t mean supernatural entities or paranormal phenomena, but the essence of being of things, creatures and phenomena. As such, 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 subject of science) or how it appears to observation (which is a subject of cognitive psychology and phenomenology).

But fear not: knowing as I do that much of the readership of this volume will be composed of psychologists, therapists and people generally interested in metaphysics—as opposed to professional philosophers alone—I’ve striven to keep the jargon to a bare minimum. I also either explicitly define technical terms on first usage or use them in a way that makes their intended meaning clear and unambiguous from the context.

This is only one of many stylistic choices I’ve made to ensure that this little volume is not only readable, but also clear, compelling and enjoyable to a general readership. I hope you find inspiration in it to, someday, delve more deeply into Jung’s extraordinary legacy.

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11 comments:

  1. I see I will be buying my second Kastrup book.

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  2. Looking forward to reading it Bernardo. I see folks such as yourself, Jung and others shouldering a burden that many people don't carry. When I moved from automation engineering to professional artist I became aware of this type of patron that couldn't enjoy a piece until they had checked off the list of criteria that defined if they could enjoy the work or not. I was always a simpleton that just was either awed or not regardless of any external definition. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy immensely your intellectual dissection of all things metaphysical, your art as it may be but I also am aware it is largely your description of the shade of a particular color of blue. As I sit running my new excavator on the side of this insane mountain looking over this idyllic Andean valley, sitting in my seat watching incredible hawks and on the rare occasion an Andean Condor soar beneath me, causing me extreme vertigo I ponder many of the things you ponder. One difference is I'm unburdened with having to communicate it to someone else or have the need to seek their validation. Do you ever experience it like that or do you always feel compelled to communicate it to another in terms they understand?

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  3. Technology is a beautiful thing until it isn't. I just purchased the book from Amazon and while I don't live at the end of the world I can see it from here.

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  4. "The little volume you’ve now almost finished reading has been my attempt to facilitate such discovery."

    From Chapter 7 Finale of the book discussed.

    For this lone traveller you have achieved what you set out to do. As your previous books have, especially More Than Allegory, your ideas written down in this book describe for me ideas I intuit but can't myself articulate.

    While the author has obviously found his means by which to render the divine an indispensable service, what can be said of the vast multitude of unhappy creatures with no light guiding them to these truths, with not the slightest inkling of a divine play or dream?

    Those so fearful of the anniliation which logically awaits their inherited materialistic beliefs that they glory in a vulgar liar, deceiver, desecrater (I'm american).

    And at the risk of betraying my limited intellectual capacity, why is the "evil" in the following sentence "necessary"?

    "Co-opted as it has been by the mainstream—a necessary evil—..."

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    1. Man I like and agree with what you say. I ponder if other people look at the universe in breathless wonder the way I do and feel so incredibly grateful to have had the chance to perceive. I'm convinced many don't and if people like Bernardo have the capacity to articulate things in such a way as to open their eyes then I tip my hat to him. By the way am really enjoying the book. I have too many irons in the fire to sit down and read it in one go.

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  5. Enjoying it so far. Only have one more Kastrup book to go before being all caught up. Looking forward to the next one. Keep 'em coming!

    Came across an article about how imaginary numbers may be essential for describing reality. Reminded me of Kurt Goedel and just how seemingly absurd the language of mathematics has to get in order to describe reality.

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/imaginary-numbers-may-be-essential-for-describing-reality-20210303/

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  6. A retired academic and minor poet who taught literature for many years, I have long been an enthusiast of both Borges and Jung. And I started to wonder when you and your distinguished co-authors (https://getpocket.com/explore/item/could-multiple-personality-disorder-explain-life-the-universe-and-everything) would mention Jung’s concepts of the Collective Unconscious, the archetypes, and the complexes, of which your article might almost be considered a paraphrase. Now I see that you are familiar with Jung’s thought. Wow. We never stop learning.

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  7. Jung's collective unconscious was an attempt to give our world its psychological roots, but Jung could not perceive the clarity, organization, and deeper context in which the collective unconscious has its own existence.

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  8. Bernardo I finished the book finally and I loved it. It took a while even though it wasn't a big book but I really read it and not just consumed it. It's funny that I have been aware of Jung for forever but I never read a thing directly written by him. He was amazing. Having said all of that the part of the book that astounded me was the chapter on "The Fall". Absolutely stunning. Having gone to Catholic school all my school days where religion was a subject like math I have of course read that material probably 1000 times but never in that context. I'm still stunned from reading it. It was like when I started studying the Toltec path. How in the hell did those people know so much then that we are now rediscovering?

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  9. All: in order to avoid spam and abuse, which, unfortunately, can still happen when people hide behind practically anonymous google accounts, and reduce my work load approving comments, I am from now on requiring that you register with this blog before commenting. It's free, fast and easy.

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