Austrian ethologist (animal behaviorist, different from the human ego-version), Konrad Lorenz, was of a class of empiricists whose integrity stood out in the field of observational science. His book, On Aggression, was a model in his discipline. His dedication to understanding nature equaled his love of animals, and his book was a tribute to both.

One study he recounted was an experiment by Wallace Craig on the effects of loneliness in the blonde ring dove. He separated a male in a cage to see which objects might elicit courtship activities when deprived of a female:

After several days he was ready to "court a white dove which he had previously ignored. A few days later he was bowing and cooing to a stuffed pigeon, later still to a rolled-up cloth, and finally, after weeks of solitary confinement, he directed his courtship to the empty corner of his boxed cage where the convergence of the straight lines offered at least an optical fixation point."

Lorenz explained that the inner threshold of release sinks in proportion to the lack of external stimuli. Instinct regulates specific energies according to natural imperatives. Lacking the specific object of its intent, the energy is expended on the closest available analogy to it.

Many have difficulty admitting that humans are subject to the same instincts as the rest of the animal kingdom, though anyone seeking company in a bar can relate to the dove in the cage. It seems "the girls all look prettier at closing time." But, whether we're talking about birds, bars, babies, or bibles, similar functions are at work. That's just the body, though, right? God gave it to us (only once-removed from His image) not only to tempt us but to: "Be fruitful and multiply... and subdue the earth..." However haughtily science may deride religious belief, it still operates on that very assumption.

Conversely, we've long been dangerously over-populated, and an unconscious science has also devised quick and terrible remedies for it when nature deems it no longer sustainable. Aims differ according to higher needs, and biological impulses contain the seeds of psychic functions on higher levels.

Lorenz quoted from the witch's kitchen scene in Faust where Mephistopheles proffers the potion which will enable Faust to fall in love: "With this drink in your body, soon you'll greet/A Helena in every girl you meet." -- an example of the mythic complexities of the sexual instinct in a conscious animal.

Jung showed that the gulf between the natural intent of an unconscious function and its conscious fulfillment is compensated by longing -- libido, his term for psychic energy, from the Latin, lust or desire. He showed in his, Symbols of Transformation, how the energy originally arising from the sexual instinct is converted into higher cultural aims through symbolic ritual.

But, he also argued that rational concepts can't replace living experience: the value of symbol and ritual. He compared it with the knowledge of a disease as opposed to having it. History shows, too, that even the most ardent believers experience the doubt and conflict which fill the divide between a function's natural intent and conscious ideas about it -- a process of discovery none deny except they be trapped in the past.

Like the dove's courtship to the rolled-up cloth, an instinctual need must be acted out in some form. If consciousness deviates too far from it, its energy is expended in compensating activities: exaggerations, compulsions, obsessions, "isms", and all the rest of the litany of modern psychic conflict.

Compare Wallace Craig's observations with the changes reflected in today's shift from theology to science to technology to media diversion. Like the dove in the cage, Jung showed that the religious function can't be deprived of its energy even where there's no conscious outlet. It re-appears in substitute forms which resemble the original intent but don't satisfy it.

Even when we profess spiritual beliefs, however sincerely, we have difficulty recognizing that we also identify with them; and in the identity, we worship the belief through its object. An unconscious opposition then creates unintended consequences designed to re-direct it -- like the unconscious effects of the creation/destruction problem on science and religion.

It's difficult enough to reconcile any ideal with a psychic reality, however truly believed in -- how much more so when one has forfeited the spiritual reflection intended to inform it? Inner responsibility is compensated by an extraverted group-think as contradictory as it is unconscious.

The dizzying complexity of information today is indigestible without the feeling-values needed to orient and organize it. Science and technology feed commercial innovation, and a deceptive media markets it to keep us from reflecting on what we're doing; if we can be induced to identify with things, we'll need more and more of them to fill the psychic void. We sit staring at "the empty corner... "

Jung demonstrated that the only faculty that makes sense or meaning of the world is the reflective instinct; that it's religious and philosophical nature is a reality and will not be altered: an individual function that no group possesses but is possessed by through identification.

Unconscious conflicts, however, produce symptoms. They appear in relief in the individual, but also reflect cultural undercurrents. To a rational, scientific psychology which has rejected the study of religion as psychic experience, symptoms mean "disease". A simple animal analogy can't tell us how doves feel, but we could learn a lot more about stuffed pigeons with a little knowledge and reflection.

Read more on the symbolic aspects of instinct.

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Comment by Evan Hanks on June 14, 2015 at 9:03am


Ha! "sublime madness" might be a good way to describe it -- at least so far as our perspective now conceives the unknown. Who knows? All I can say is that if people ask themselves  "what am I doing and why" on a daily basis" with a real sense of trying to understanding themselves and why and how what they ceaselessly demand of others only contributes to their own unconsciousness, then their projections onto competing ideologies would slowly transform into inner conflicts and cease to be external ones to that extent. Such a change could not possibly be for the worse. Jung said the individual is the only carrier of life, and to me, that means that any group is an extension of the individuals who comprise it. The collective form of what they all agree to lends to identification with a symbolic ego-ideal but also a release from responsibility. They simply believe in it. I'm sure people will continue to interact and collide as they always have. But one of the reasons you'll see little direct focus on societal change from me is that I'm convinced that it's only the individual who will ultimately reduce the severity of the collisions, and only if he/she considers ideologies as symptomatic expressions of unconscious personal emotions. Though I think many are ready for a new kind of dialogue, we'll have to wait for the "leaders" to get past their self-aggrandizement and consider their own humanity on a different level than power and profit. Until then, I think we're stuck with the "heavily armed and trained retards." (I like that). 

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