Jung's Theory

Jung's theory, like Freud's, is a depth psychology. It assumes the most important factors influencing your personality are deep in the unconscious. However, Jung did not use Freud's concepts of id and super-ego.

What was the psyche? What was Jung's special interest?

The mind as a whole was called the psyche (PSY-kee) by both men. The psyche is the whole psychic universe of the individual, including both conscious and unconscious processes. Jung was fascinated with unconscious processes in the psyche. If the sexual theory was Freud's special interest, unconscious mental contents were Jung's special interest. Jung was interested in any sort of myth, art, dream, legend, or religious belief, because he regarded these as conscious expressions of deep, largely unconscious psychological forces.

Jung distinguished between two types of unconscious mind: the personal unconscious and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious was the accumulation of experiences from a person's lifetime that could not be consciously recalled. The collective unconscious, on the other hand, was a sort of universal inheritance of human beings, a "species memory" passed on to each of us, not unlike the motor programs and instincts of other animals.

What were two types of unconscious mind, to Jung? What were complexes?

Jung believed the personal unconscious was dominated by complexes. Complexes, in Jung's system, are emotion-laden themes from a person's life. For example, if you had a leg amputated when you were a child, this would influence your life in profound ways, even if you were wonderfully successful in overcoming the handicap. You might have many thoughts, emotions, memories, feelings of inferiority, triumphs, bitterness, determination...centering on that one aspect of your life. If these thoughts troubled you, Jung would say you had a complex about the leg.

A complex is literally a grouping of parts around some central emotional theme. In Jung's terminology, it is a system of related thoughts and emotions tied together by a psychologically powerful event. Complexes were due to a person's life experiences, so they were individual and unique, part of the personal unconscious according to Jung. A complex might manifest itself by turning up in dreams or fantasies, or by provoking an unusual reaction to events in the outside world that relate to the complex.

Why was Jung interested in alchemy?

Jung was struck by the similarity between images from dreams, reported to him by patients, and images in the journals of medieval alchemists—magicians who demonstrated impressive chemical reactions, sometimes sold potions or told the future, and (according to legend) were always seeking a way to turn lead into gold. Some alchemists also kept dream diaries, illustrating their journals with flamboyant, mysterious drawings of supernatural creatures and mystical symbols. Jung received his first alchemist's journal on loan from a library the same week he had a vivid dream about a book full of obscure symbols. The book arrived on loan, Jung opened it, and there before him were pages filled with fantastical symbols, just as in his dream. From that point on he was hooked on alchemy, so to speak. He frequently explored ancient alchemist's books for clues to obscure symbolism and occult practices.

What was the symbolic meaning of alchemy, to Jung?

Jung did not believe gold could be created from lead...at least, not literally. Jung saw the whole enterprise of alchemy as symbolic, a spiritual exercise. Alchemy was a symbol of the potential for human transformation from base, lower existence (lead) to higher spiritual awareness (gold). Jung could see similarities in the symbolism occurring in the journals of alchemists, the dreams of schizophrenics, and the myths of ancient cultures. All (Jung believed) were manifestations of the same human effort to struggle toward spiritual wholeness, to find the "gold" in existence.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey