Carl Jung’s body of work has set into motion a scientific revolution on the order of Copernicus. While many mainstream academic psychologists and mainstream intellectuals dismiss Jung and his work as regressive and unscientific, little by little his ideas have been seeping into major academic disciplines, although incognito. Many anthropologists (including the celebrated Levi-Strauss) have been influenced by and have capitalized on Jung’s ideas with not a single reference to him. Many of Jung’s ideas and methods, once considered heretical, are now employed by several major psychological schools – again, with no credit given to Jung. One key academic discipline most historically resistant to Jung’s ideas has been the field of folklore and mythology. In this field, again, slowly, his ideas are beginning to be integrated by some brave academic scholars.
Of course, Jung is not alone in scientific history in being ignored or dismissed by his peers. Many great minds have been ignored, dismissed, or otherwise disparaged despite the revolutionary brilliance of their ideas. What great idea is the herald of Carl Jung’s alleged scientific revolution? The claim that the ego is not the center of the psyche. Rather, Jung (1959) contends, an unconscious ordering principle that he calls the ‘archetype of the Self’ is the object around which the healthy ego revolves. This is the new paradigm that Jung’s work is slowly bringing to birth in contemporary culture.
In his classic study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, historian and philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn (1970), popularized the idea of scientific paradigms. According to Kuhn, the idea of a scientific paradigm suggests specific examples of scientific practice that “…provide models from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research” (p. 10). An example that Kuhn uses is that of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who challenged the Ptolemaic paradigm of his day. The Ptolemaic paradigm saw the earth as the center of the universe, and asserted that the sun revolved around the earth. This was also the biblical paradigm (though Kuhn ignores this, since by definition the biblical paradigm is not scientific). Copernicus asserted that the earth revolved around the sun, and he was roundly criticized for this outrageous claim. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) later supported the Copernican heliocentric theory, and was tried and arrested by the Catholic church. Galileo spent nine years under house arrest (until his death) for supporting this heretical Copernican theory.
What was Galileo’s crime? Aside from violating certain theological decrees, Galileo proposed to dispose of the geocentric (earth-centered) paradigm and replace it with the heliocentric (sun-centered) paradigm that today every school-child takes for granted. Carl Jung is guilty of a similar crime: claiming that the ego is not the center of a healthy personality. Jung asserts rather that a healthy personality features an ego which listens to, and is in touch with the organizing principle of the archetypal Self, by way of what Erich Neumann (1973) has called an ego-self axis (p. 59). Though these metaphoric ideas are today as widely rejected as Copernican ideas were in times past, I am confident this new paradigm will one day be as commonly accepted as Galileo’s is today.
It would appear that what most academics find distasteful about Jung’s work is not so much the ideas themselves, but their implications. Jung’s ideas imply that there is not only value in what rises from the unconscious, but there are also clear implications for those scholarly disciplines which continue to remain unconscious of the affect of the unconscious psyche on their own academic work. Jung’s work also implies that so-called primitive humans, those historian of religion Mircea Eliade (1959) called homo-religiosus, were actually engaging in healthy, community strengthening activities when they prayed to their gods, danced and sang out ritual re-enactments of their tribal histories, and treated their mythological canons as their most valuable possessions. Moreover, Jung claims that these same types of activities are sadly lacking in the contemporary world and that this lack of connection to the mythic realm has led to enormous psychological distress.
Were the academic world at large to rightly understand and accept these novel claims of Jung, they, each and everyone, would be required to completely rethink the premises upon which their disciplines rest. For now they would have to accept and incorporate into their work the psychic fact that before they ever put pen to paper, or conduct a single experiment, their unconscious psyche is manipulating their activities in ways of which they are completely and blissfully unaware. All science is based upon assumptions, but just because a large group of people believe these assumptions to be true does not therefore mean that those assumptions align with objective reality.
Jung’s work encourages us to enter into this new paradigm with him. To enter as into a mythic realm what he called the reality of the psyche, without losing sight of the importance of our rational, discriminating consciousness. Jung's work allows us to enter the symbolic, mythic realm of the psyche and bring back lost parts of ourselves to examine them in the light of a healthy, discerning consciousness. The ultimate goal being to integrate these contents into consciousness and make their attendant creative energies available to us. This is a Copernican revolution that completely re-writes not only our understanding of psychology and the human psyche, but also our understandings of myth, religion, and culture. Jung's work invites us to learn a new, higher-order thinking style that integrates intuition, feeling, and sensation into a new, more comprehensive way of knowing ourselves, and our world.
Join us for an exploration of the scientific revolution of our day in the upcoming course Jung and Mythology. A free introductory class will be offered on Saturday, February 24th at 1pm PT. The following week on Saturday, March 3rd, at 1pm PT, we will begin the first module of the eight week, college level course, Jung and Mythology.
Eliade, M. (1959). The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.
Jung, C. (1959). Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Neumann, E. (1973). The Child. New York, NY: Harper.