The Jungian Psyche.
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Exploring the Jungian Psyche is much like exploring the unknown.
It is fascinating and enlightening, but also may make one realise something about themselves that they have always been puzzled or troubled by. Indeed, one of the greatest shames of the 21st Century is the fact that people are so ignorant towards their own psyche; choosing to believe instead that it is merely a collection of processes that function purely to sustain life.
Before we delve into the internal structure of the Jungian psyche, I should provide a distinction between the concept of the ‘psyche’ and the ‘brain’. The human brain first and foremost is, as most would assume, a processing machine. However, it is more so than this. From reading numerous papers on neuroscience, neuropsychology and even primatology, it is clear that the brain is, in my opinion, the greatest computer ever to have existed. Its structure, functions, responsibilities, connections, and general power to control the rest of the body, are vital to existence.
The psyche, in contrast to the brain (which has been approached and studied from an almost exclusive scientific perspective), is a more conceptual idea. The psyche without doubt exists within the brain, however its true location has not been, and perhaps cannot be, pinpointed. Much like the concept of the soul within the body, the psyche (which in Ancient Greece meant ‘life’) is the totality of the ‘mind’, which in turn is the totality of an individual’s brain functions. These three terms: psyche, mind, and brain, are largely interchangeable; they all allude to the same thing, but each provide a slight adjustment of the perceptive lens when analysing such entities.
For Jung, he believed the psyche was “the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious”. I shall use this definition throughout such discussions on Jung. The psyche is the sum of all processes that exist within the space of the human mind, which geographically is centred around the brain. it is important also to understand that Jung was very clear in stating that the psyche was both constructed by both conscious and unconscious psychic processes. It is with this definition in mind that we can now delve into the Jungian psyche.
Jung regarded the psyche as the great world within, as opposed to the external world. The world within the human mind was just as, if not more, important than the exterior realm. The entire dichotomy in Jungian thought between the external and internal realms can be described by the ancient alchemist phrase “As Above, So Below”. The term itself originates from the Emerald Tablet, a cryptic Hermetic script which was used by Islamic and European Alchemists throughout the ancient world. The full Latin phrase is as follows,
“Quod est superius est sicut quod inferius, et quod inferius est sicut quod est superius.”
“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.”
This translation has over time been whittled down to the short paraphrase “as above, so below”. Nonetheless, the original implications still remain, and multiple interpretations can be devised from such a phrase. It can be used across the whole macro-microcosmic spectrum, alluding to the idea of that which exists outside the body, also exists within the body.
A psychological interpretation, especially a Jungian one, would suggest that that which is perceived also exists in memory. Another would be that there are positive and negative aspects to each human psyche. One’s psyche cannot be solely structured by positive emotion alone. For the positive to exist, there must be negative. For there to be good, there must be evil. This further alludes to the Jungian idea of dual archetypes (a subject which can be discussed later).
In addition, Jung regarded the psyche as a self-regulating system, which strives to maintain balance and harmony between opposing qualities within the human mind, but also actively searches for its development to achieve self-fulfilment or psychological wholeness, through the individuation process. A visual representation of the psyche can be found in the term, ‘Axis Mundi’.
Originally an astronomical concept, the term ‘Axis Mundi’ was a Latin phrase for axis of the earth as it sits between the two celestial poles, north and south. Jung took the term and used it to visually represent his perception of the psyche. The Axis Mundi further corroborates the idea of ‘as above so below’, as whilst a whole entity, it exists as two opposing sub-entities, one positive and one negative. It is through this visualisation that the psyche can be most easily perceived.
The psyche, as Jung described it, is constructed of two entities, with a third existing in the ‘external’ world but with the power to influence the internal.
The first is the Conscious. This represents one’s field of awareness. It is through the Conscious which we perceive, and react to, the external world. Within the Conscious are two further sub-entities, the Persona, and the Self (the Self in turn is projected through the Ego). These sub-entities can be detailed later. The Conscious can be regarded as the waking mind, the part of the mind of which one is conscious of possessing. We use the Conscious to rationalise, think, plot, evaluate, feel (to some extent) and to react to environmental stimuli that we perceive, also through the Conscious.
The second is the Personal Unconscious. This entity consists of emotions and environmental stimuli that have been absorbed or suppressed subliminally. This can be down to the Conscious simply not registering such absorption, or the Conscious choosing to forcefully suppress such stimuli or emotion, thus consciously forgetting. Such stimuli and emotion reside in the Personal Unconscious — forgotten but not completely eradicated. They still possess the ability to influence the Conscious and the individual’s behaviour, through sub-personalities called Complexes (another concept which can be discussed later).
Moreover, this Unconscious realm has the potential to transcend time itself, through dreams and visions. It is limitless in scope, until it comes to face the unknown aspects of the external and internal worlds. Jung described the Personal Unconscious as thus:
‘Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do…’
Both the Conscious and Personal Unconscious exist as opposing but interactive psychological entities. They are constantly engaged in an interlocking embrace, both trying to ensure that one does not overpower the other. If the Conscious overpowers the Unconscious, an individual becomes shallow and without psycho-emotional depth. They become too concerned with the thoughts and feelings of others and require constant environmental stimulus to feed its oversized Conscious.
If the reverse occurs — the Unconscious consumes the Conscious — then the individual comes to possess multiple personalities, constructed of various Complexes, previously suppressed by the Conscious but now bursting through into the Conscious at varying rates and with varying ferocity. The film Split (2016) is a prime example of such an event, with the individual possessing multiple alternate personalities which can take the reigns of the Conscious mind at any time. Both eventualities are extremely dangerous for the individual, and so it is vital that the psyche maintains a balance between the two, allowing the Unconscious to influence the Conscious just enough, and allowing the Conscious to suppress the Unconscious just enough as well.
The third part of the psyche, which exists both within and without its realm, is the Collective Unconscious. This entity is composed of elements which are inherited and which all humans share across time and space. It is an almost infinite expanse of subconscious knowledge and memory, which dates back to the first humans. It is within this that Archetypes reside (again, this can be discussed later).
The Collective Unconscious therefore, due to its universal and timeless nature, cannot exist directly within the psyche of an individual, which is finite and unique. However, it has the ability to influence and permeate the Personal Unconscious, which it does mostly through dreams and visions, in the form of archetypal symbols. By influencing the Unconscious, it therefore can marginally shape the Conscious and the entire psyche, if such archetypal symbols are interpreted by the dreamer and used to develop the psyche.
Jung was only able to perceive the Collective Unconscious, which before him had never been perceived, because of his ability to conjure dreams and visions with such flamboyance and delve deep into their subconscious undertones. Without such ability, Jung would not have superseded previous psychological knowledge and would not have become such an influential thinker.
The psyche therefore is an entity which consists of interactive, opposing, permeating sub-categories. It cannot be imagined as a physical, rigid construction, and any attempt to do so creates the opposite visualisation to that which Jung intended. The concept of the Axis Mundi is one of only a few visualisations that can accurately interpret its structure, but even the Axis Mundi is too concrete.
A more suitable imagistic representation is the Mandala, which Jung saw as a representation of the totality of the Self, once fully realised and psychologically complete. However, the Mandala does not represent the Collective Unconscious, which is simultaneously both part of and separate from the psyche.
Clinically, the psyche can be mapped and described with its various entities and sub-categories, such as I have done throughout this article. However, I believe it is impossible to visually perceive the psyche from an external perspective, because my psyche is me. I cannot perceive it; because for me to do so would mean me extracting myself from my own psyche, and withdrawing myself to a higher-order representation, i.e., a higher dimension. And since, at the time of writing, such a dimension is unfortunately impenetrable, it is impossible to do so.
But maybe by experimenting with one’s own psyche, by dreaming and daydreaming, one can begin to map the internal construction of the psyche. To relate back to the beginning of this article, if one cannot see from above, one may be able to see from below.
By William Cooper.