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The archetypal self of Jung

As an empirical concept, the self designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man. It expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. ... it is a transcendental concept, for it presupposes the existence of unconscious factors on empirical grounds and thus characterizes an entity that can be described only in part, but for the other part, remains at present unknowable and illimitable[32, ¶789].

Jung suggests in the above quote that we have evolved a wider sense of self that is transcendental for it is at present unknowable and illimitable. Does this make any sense?

As we develop and individuate the psychic functions we pull more of the unconscious forces of life into the domain of consciousness. This expands our sense of self. Are there limits to that expansion? Our individual existence is an integral part of the evolution of consciousness on this planet and in the universe. Most of the chemical elements in our body were created in stars that exploded eons ago. We could not exist without the history of those stars. Any boundaries we draw around the self are arbitrary. We need a limited sense of self for practical reasons. Consciousness only exists in the particular. But it also only exists in the wider context of an evolving universe. From the narrow ego of ``me now'' to the all encompassing spiritual evolution of consciousness is a vast array of possible selves. They are all valid but limited views of reality.

Jung saw the mandalas created by every culture as a symbolic representation of the self.

Their [mandalas'] basic motif is the premonition of a center of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which itself is a source of energy. The energy of the central point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances. This center is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the center is represented by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self--the paired opposites that make up the total personality. This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind. A certain number of these, however, are permanently or temporarily included within the scope of the personality and, through this contact, acquire an individual stamp as the shadow, anima and animus, to mention only the best known figures. The self though on the one hand simple, is on the other hand, an extremely composite thing, a ``conglomerate soul,'' to use the Indian expression.[31, ¶634]

The human psyche in our bodies and brains is the most complex structure in the known universe. We are at the earliest stages of acquiring the tools that will make it possible to gain a rigorous scientific understanding of the psyche. In the absence of the necessary tools the natural instinct is to try to fit the immense complexity of the psyche into an overly narrow intellectual model. Two of Jung's contemporaries, Freud and Adler, constructed such models. Jung was motivated to write Psychological Types[32] by the limited truth he saw in both of their perspectives and the wider terrain he had observed in working with patients and through introspection.

The price paid for such a broad view is lack of precision and rigor. Jung's work is largely intuitive, it is at best vaguely correct and no doubt often precisely wrong. Still I believe it the best attempt to date to probe the depths of psychic structure especially its profoundly creative instincts.

In evolving an extraordinarily flexible psyche it was necessary to evolve an equally flexible system of motivation or emotions. Without the flexibility of motivation the flexibility of the psyche itself would never be used. The key to flexibility of motivation is inherently conflicting motivational structures. We have discussed a little of this structure in Sections 10.2 and 10.3. The self as Jung defines it is the core or central element that keeps these contradictory forces operating as an integrated whole.

To what end does this process operate? It was created by evolution and so survival is the architect. But it is survival not just of the next generation but into an indefinite future. The self as Jung describes it is the psychic image of this unlimited potential for future development. As such it focuses on the many dimensions of human functioning that contribute to survival including creativity in all its forms.

Sensing the self as something irrational, as an indefinable existent, to which the ego is neither opposed nor subject, but merely attached, and about which it revolves very much as the earth revolves round the sun--thus we come to the goal of individuation. I use the word ``sensing'' to indicate the apperceptive character of the relationship between ego and self. In this relationship nothing is knowable, because we can say nothing about the contents of the self. The ego is the only content of the self that we do know. The individuated ego senses itself as the object of an unknown and supraordinate subject. It seems to me that our psychological inquiry must come to a stop here, for the idea of a self is itself a transcendental postulate which, although justified psychologically, does not allow of scientific proof. This step beyond science is an unconditional requirement of the psychological development I have sought to depict, because without this postulate I could give no adequate formulation of the psychic processes that occur empirically. At the very least, therefore, the self can claim the value of an hypothesis analogous to that of the structure of the atom. And even though we should once again be enmeshed in an image, it is none the less powerfully alive, and its interpretation quite exceeds my powers. I have no doubt at all that is an image, but one in which we are contained.[26, ¶405]

The self is transcendent because it points to an unlimited future and unbounded creative expansion of the evolutionary process. This is something that no being can comprehend. Of course we can have some sense of the future structure of the evolutionary process, but that tells us nothing of its essence. It tells us nothing of what it is like to be a more highly evolved being.

Is it plausible that such a psychic structure would evolve and if so how can we accept Jung's claim that this structure does not "allow of scientific proof". The key to this riddle may lie in the previously mentioned intuition of Jung that number is the archetypal mediator between the physical and the transcendent.

The role that number plays in mythology and in the unconscious gives food for thought. They are an aspect of the physically real as well of the psychically imaginary. They do not only count and measure, and are not merely quantitative; they also make qualitative statements and are therefore a mysterious something midway between myth and reality, partly discovered and partly invented. Equations, for instance, that were invented as pure mathematical formulae have subsequently proved to be formulations of the quantitative behavior of physical things. Conversely owing to their individual qualities, numbers can be vehicles for psychic processes in the unconscious. The structure of the mandala, for instance, is intrinsically mathematical. We may exclaim with the mathematician Jacobi: ``In the Olympian host Number eternally reigns,''
These hints are merely intended to point out to the reader that the opposition between the human world and the higher world is not absolute; the two are only relatively incommensurable, for the bridge between them is not entirely lacking. Between them stands the great mediator. Number, whose reality is valid in both worlds, as an archetype in its very essence.[29, ¶777]

Mathematics allows us to gain some understanding of the evolution of structure over time. It connects with the transcendent. We can know about structural aspects of what will be. But structures of the psyche that have evolved to facilitate human creativity do not have a precise or scientifically comprehensible goal. If they did they would not be creative.

One thing to keep in mind in interpreting Jung's intuitions about Number is that he never understood mathematics.

My intellectual morality fought against these whimsical inconsistencies, which have forever debarred me from understanding mathematics. Right into old age I have had the incorrigible feeling that if, like my schoolmates. I could have accepted without a struggle the proposition that a = b, or that sun = moon, dog = cat, then mathematics might have fooled me endlessly-just how much I only began to realize at the age of eighty-four. All my life it remained a puzzle to me why it was that I never managed to get my bearings in mathematics when there was no doubt whatever that I could calculate properly. Least of all did I understand my own moral doubts concerning mathematics.[33, p 28]

Perhaps Jung's intuitive sense that structure never captures or even touches on essence underlies his difficulty with mathematics. Mathematical identity is structural identity as made explicit in the Axiom of Extensionality given in Section 5.5.1. But mathematical identity is not existential identity. In the physical world every object has a location. Even if two objects at different locations have identical internal structure their relationship to time and space keep them from being identical. They are two essences and not one.

Perhaps Jung,s intellectual morality would not allow the artificial separation of structure and essence that is at the core of contemporary mathematics and science. That separation is an artificial game that is essential in the hard sciences that have become purely mathematical. He no doubt could have learned to play the game. Perhaps he would have been happy to do so if he understood it in these terms. But he was living at a time, as we still are today, when the discoveries of science about physical structure are all too often taken as the primary or ultimate reality. The problem with that is that science and mathematics deal only with structure. Seeing structure as ultimate reality leads to a dead and meaningless universe. For Jung the universe is overflowing with meaning.


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