Through a Jungian Lens

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About the Psyche

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I found this mushroom, an Elegant Stinkhorn, in the wood mulch of the garden.   The photo is “suggestive” to say the least.  And, just as I said these last few words to myself, it dawned on me that the “suggestiveness” would not be the same for all.  For some, likely there is nothing “suggested” at all by the image – it is what it is, plain and simple.

There was a question raised by John Ferric, one of those who read this blog, which was simple enough: “Are you implying that my psyche is connected to(a part of) the collective unconscious?”  I replied: “The short answer, in my opinion, is yes..”  Well, John asked another question:  “Can you explain how that connection works?”  That got me to thinking about an article I wrote for an educational journal about a decade ago that addressed this very topic.  And, as I sat this morning with a fresh cup of coffee in the living room looking out the window at the falling rain, I began to plan my response to John.  As I wandered around my head, the answer only became longer and longer, at least a large book of text in length.  What I was creating in my head was a theory.  And, since it is just a theory, my response is changing and returning to the first response because this is what I think/feel/intuit not something that I can profess because of any particular set of facts.

We still know so very little about the psyche that it is positively grotesque to think we are far enough advanced to frame general theories.  We have not even established the empirical extent of the psyche’s phenomenology:  How can we dream of general theories?  No doubt theory is the best cloak for lack of experience and ignorance, but the consequences are depressing: bigotedness, superficiality, and scientific sectarianism.” (Van Eenwyk, Archetypes and Strange Attractors:  The Chaotic World of Symbols, p. 15)

This makes me sit back and want to make sure that whatever I say here is just what I think, what I perceive as the thread of reality as I experience it, a reality that is much bigger than I will ever be.


8 Responses

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  1. It is ‘suggestive’ and what a name! I wonder why we shy away from admitting anything related to sexual organs, even the suggestion of them (at least that is what this photo suggested to me immediately). The name of the mushroom made me wince.
    I had to make myself write this response because I was feeling embarrassed about commenting on this and forced myself to do so. Regarding the collective unconscious and whether others will perceive this photo as ‘suggestive’in the way that I do, well, that is open to question.

    abha iyengar

    July 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

    • My dear Abha, it was my wife who first found this mushroom in the garden and she was the one who thought I might want to photograph it. And yes, for me it does suggest a penis. And the name, think of the odour that is present when the penis is aroused before there is sexual release. It all fits. Do not feel the need to be anything but real here. Each of us is as much shadow as light. Humans are messy beings with messy biologies and messy thoughts. And all of that is good.

      Robert G. Longpré

      July 5, 2010 at 9:15 am

  2. Robert,
    I base my questions to you on Jung himself. Here is a quote from the opening section of “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious.”
    “The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes) the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.”
    It seems to me Jung contradicts himself. He claims the contents of the collective unconscious “. . . have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.” What I acquire by “heredity” is, by definition “individually acquired.” The only thing I can see “collective” about the collective unconscious is that each and every human being has one. Just as we can say that each and every human being has “opposable thumbs,” therefore opposable thumbs are “collective” in nature. We also know that each and every human thumb is unique and traceable by fingerprints to a specific human being; this uniqueness is the result of heredity. I find nothing in Jung to dispute that each and every individual genetically/heredity acquired “collective unconscious” is unique to that specific individual.

    It can be found online at:

    John Ferric

    July 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

    • John, Jung contradicts himself in other places as well. It is hard not to contradict oneself when the field of study is paradoxical in nature. Perhaps to say that the collective unconscious is simply there and not acquired, a precondition of being born, would be easier to understand. Heredity is a fact, the source genetic codes that exist in the sperm and egg. There is nothing unique in any of this. The only thing that is unique is what we do on our journeys of growing into consciousness.

      Robert G. Longpré

      July 8, 2010 at 10:11 am

      • Exactly Robert,
        The factor that then presents itself to the genetic/hereditary factors is the realm of experience of the outer world. Both the genetic factors and experience are “individually acquired.” So I understand that “my collective unconscious” is connected to, a part of, “my psyche.” But that it(my collective unconscious) is not connected, a part of, anyone else’s collective unconscious.

        John Ferric

        July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

  3. another factor you will find interesting – the neurology of the human brain shows we are likely to think/our neurons respond in similar ways to similar visual stimuli (symbols). There is a physical and physiological component that supports us think collectively, as well as unconsciously.


    July 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    • Urspo, I completely agree with this statement. As an educator, this was an important thing to realise if one actually wanted to allow for a better learning experience for the students, using knowledge of the brain to move to new knowledge.

      Robert G. Longpré

      July 8, 2010 at 10:05 am

  4. Thanks Urspo,
    Thinking, in Jung’s system is a function of consciousness. Since I do not have the data you describe before me, I cannot assess it. However, based on what you wrote, it seems to me that it may be more accurate to say we react in similar ways, which, IMO does not equate to thinking collectively. Consider how people react to an image(symbol) of Dick Cheney.

    John Ferric

    July 7, 2010 at 6:59 am

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