Thinking along the lines of nature?
In an interview for the BBC, broadcast in 1959, Carl Jung, the Swiss depth psychologist was asked this, by his interviewer John Freeman: “I remember that you’ve said death is just as psychologically important as birth and like it is an integral part of life, but surely it can’t be like birth if it’s an end, can it?”
Jung’s reply was astonishing to me, and confirmed in my mind at least the validity of my own emerging world view, or at least granted me the necessary permission to go on developing my personal philosophy along the lines it seemed to be wanting to go.
Jung replied: Yes, if it is an end, and there we are not quite certain,… about this end, because, you know there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche; that it isn’t entirely confined to space and time; you can have dreams, or visions of the future; you can see around corners, and such things. Only ignorants deny these facts, you know? It is quite evident that they do exist and have existed always. Now, these facts show that the psyche in part at least is not dependent upon these,.. confinements. And then what?
When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space alone, and obviously, it doesn’t, then in to that extent the psyche is not submitted to those laws, and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence, beyond time and space.
Jung is telling us that there’s more to the mind than the narrow view materialist science suggests. He tells us that the mind is more than the brain, that the psyche is more than an illusion brought on by an accumulation of memory and environmental programming. The evidence for this, not only from modern times, but from all the ages past, is compelling – that the mind is capable of existing in, if not exactly a place, then some form of psychical medium external to time and space, which is at any rate outside of our heads and independent of our biological being.
John Freeman, presses Jung on this point, seeking perhaps to winkle out the actual beliefs of Jung himself: “Do you, yourself believe that death is probably the end, or do you believe,..”
Jung cut in: “Well,… I can’t say – you see, the word ‘belief’ is a difficult thing for me. I don’t ‘believe’; I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing,… and when I know it, I don’t need to believe it. If,… I,… I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing just for sake of believing it. I can’t believe it! But when there are sufficient reasons for a certain hypothesis, I shall accept these reasons, naturally. And shall say: ‘We have to reckon with the possibility of so and so. You know?’
Jung has no use for the term “belief”,then, because it implies the holding of certain things to be true, when one does not have good reason for it. Jung views were more than beliefs, they were backed up by his own observations which gave him sufficient reason for forming what he saw as a perfectly reasonable hypothesis regarding at least some form of the psychical continuation of life, after death.
“Well,… now you told us that we should regard death as being a goal, and to stray away from it is to evade life, and life’s purpose. What advice would you give to people in their later life to enable them to do this when most of them must, in fact, believe that death is the end of everything?”
Jung: “Well,… you see, I have treated many old people, and its quite interesting to watch what their conscious is doing with the fact that it is apparently threatened with the complete end. It disregards it. Life behaves as if it were going on,… and so I think it is better for old people to live on,… to look forward to the next day, as if he had to spend centuries,… and then he lives happily. But when he is afraid,…. and he doesn’t looks forward, he looks back, he petrifies, he gets stiff, and he dies before his time. But when he’s living on, looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then he lives. And that is about what your conscious is intending to do. Of course it is quite obvious that we’re all going to die and this is the sad finale of everything, but never-the-less, there is something in us that doesn’t believe it, apparently, but this is merely a fact, a psychological fact. Doesn’t mean to me that it proves something. It is simply so. For instance, I may not know why we need salt, but we prefer to eat salt too because we feel better. And so when you think in a certain way, you may feel considerably better. And I think if you think along the lines of nature, then you think properly.”
What Jung means by this last bit isn’t quite as clear, and it strikes me as settling back a bit, and straddling the fence compared with his earlier, more visionary statements. Psychologically at least, he’s telling us we are better to disregard the fact of death as an end, that his observations suggest we are programmed this way, and the worst thing we should do is go against our instincts, against our nature and assume that death is an end, and fear one’s annihilation, because then you bring on the infirmities of old age, become prisoner to them, and die before your time. Those who disregard it, live normally, and fully. But then Jung tells us this does not prove anything in itself, only that by thinking along these lines, you feel better.
It is more natural to think of ourselves as immortal. Maybe it’s an evolutionary quirk that people who delude themselves this way are able to live longer, and that’s all there is to it. Or,…
This interview reminds me why Jung is such a significant influence over my thoughts and my work.
You can see this interview over on Youtube here: