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Jung's Concept of the Psyche
by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. © 1997

The Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung, taught that the human mind or psyche is complex and is composed of parts, much like the physical body. He coined the word "complexes" for various unconscious parts of the psyche. Complexes are the focal and nodal points of psychic life (Jacobi, 1973, p. 37). He also divided the unconscious into two distinct regions, the personal and the collective. "Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes" (Jung, 1990, p. 42).

In Jungian phraseology, the ego itself is a complex. It is the complex that is the subject of consciousness (Jacobi, 1973, p. 7). Jung also taught that the stability of the ego is relative, and far-reaching changes of personality can and do occur. These need not be pathological; they are sometimes developmental (Jung, 1978, p. 6).

Figure 4.

The unconscious, the inner 'environment' of the psyche, is a different medium from the conscious. There is usually not much change in the near-to-conscious areas because of the rapid alternation between light and shadow. Jung (1973) calls this fluid area a "no man's land" and designates it as the personal unconscious (p. 97).

A simplified model of the ego and the unconscious is shown in Figure 4. Behind the personal unconscious lies the collective unconscious which contain the archetypes. The archetypes represent the structure of a "psychic world" whose reality is seen through its effects on the conscious mind (Jacobi, 1973, p. 37). From the foregoing we can write the equality:

archetypes = psychic attractors

Phase space is the state space of a system, a mathematical abstract space used to visualize the evolution of a dynamic system (Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989). The phase space of a human being has not yet been defined mathematically, but life itself can be envisioned as a human phase space with time plotted along the x axis. Such a plot would begin at birth and end with death as a fixed attractor.

The structure of the psyche is similar to that of the physical body. According to Jung, "the archetypes are the organs of the prerational psyche" (Jacobi, 1973, p. 46). Archetypes are structures, not images. They allow for the periodic creation and dissolution of images. The archetypes have a hierarchical order. The "primary" archetypes are those that cannot be further reduced. The next in line are the "children" or "secondary" archetypes. Then come the "grandchildren" or "tertiary" until we come to those which are closest to consciousness and which have the least intensity, meaning, and numinosity or energy charge (Jacobi, 1973, p. 56).

The psyche, as a macroscopic system, can remain predictable and stable even when its main subsystem, the ego, is unstable. When the ego enters basins of instability, its trajectory through phase space becomes uncertain and multiple possibilities or accessible states become available to it. In this way, the healthy ego grows and matures in individual ways over time by learning from personal experience. If an archetypal (chaotic) attractor encountered in phase space cannot be assimilated, unhealthy states can develop. According to Jung (1990), various forms of insanity can result from the failure to assimilate such encounters.

Figure 5 shows a more complicated model. Here the center of the psyche is the self, balanced by the ego and shadow. This model illustrates the open nature of Jung's view of the psyche. At the conscious end, the persona acts as a filter for the ego to the external

Figure 5.

world, while at the unconscious end, the archetype of the anima-animus acts as a filter to the collective unconscious. Figures 4 and 5 are elaborations of models presented by Jacobi (1973) and illustrate the complex dynamic nature of the psyche as defined by Jung.

Jung's psyche functions with circular causality. The central archetype of the psyche is the self which, together with the ego, determine the order parameters of the entire psyche (biases, dispositions, likes and dislikes, values, and so on). These parameters then determine the behavior of the ego and self. The behavior of the ego can be determined from personality characteristics and traits (Jung, 1971). The behavior of the self can be determined from dreams (Jung, 1974).

Jung (1973) published his essay On Psychic Energy in 1928. In a footnote he writes "A system is absolutely closed when no energy from outside can be fed into it. Only in such a system can entropy occur" (p. 26). This was the prevailing understanding at that time. Today we have Prigogine's entropy which addresses open systems, and Shannon's entropy which addresses the exchange of information.

The psyche, like the brain, is an open system. The brain exchanges both mass and energy with its environment. The psyche exchanges energy (Jung called this libido) and information with its environment.

Jung also equated the will with "disposable energy," implying that energy can be stored within and dispensed from the psyche (Jung, 1973). According to information theory, in order for information to have meaning, there must be a sharing of symbolic coding. Jung's collective unconscious allows psyches to share archetypal meanings. The archetypes, serving in their role as strange attractors, create upredictability and raise entropy. They attempt to balance the exchange of information, which must be assimilated by the ego in order to be meaningful.

Consciousness may have a direct effect on the subatomic particles of the body, especially those within the brain. A tiny change within the open system of the brain, for example, can result in a vast change to the overall health of the body because of amplification through feedback loops. Nonlinearity exists at many scales throughout the brain. This increases the likelihood that bifurcation and amplification at some point in the brain will take place. Brain activity in its details is unpredictable--but it does have tendencies. New thoughts/stimuli are chaotic but after repetition, become orderly. This process is called recall or memory through neuron feedback coupling.

Figure 6.

Figure 6 shows a very simplified model for brain activity. The brain has three basic input channels and one output channel. Information comes into the brain by way of the five physical senses and/or memory, as shown on the left under All Input. However, at the top of the brain, a second input (orderly or rational) is shown coming through the cortex. Also, at the bottom of the brain, a third input (chaotic or irrational) is shown coming through the brain stem. Essentially, the inputs of order and chaos represent the sense of order and disorder that is present in virtually all brain activity. The inputs of order and chaos cause a tension throughout the brain that is mandatory for proper and healthy growth. Without the input from order, the brain would fall into insanity and irrationality. It would dream too much. Without the input from chaos, the brain would fall into stereotyped "grooves" or habitual modes of thinking, and would function like an automaton or robot, without any real creativity. It would no longer dream at all. The output, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, depends upon a proper blending of chaos and order. "The psyche is made up of processes whose energy springs from the equilibration of all kinds of opposites" (Jung, 1973, p. 117).

Jung (1973) wrote that "all knowledge is the result of imposing some kind of order upon the reactions of the psychic system as they flow into our consciousness" (p. 81). Thus the imposition of order upon the chaotic flow of our sensory impressions, gives rise to meaningful information.

A Science and Psychology Interface

Chaos theory, synergetics, and information theory can interface with psychology by viewing the psyche as a complex dynamic system.

The psyche's gateway to the external world is the brain, which is also a complex dynamic system. The complex systems model of the brain is an attempt to define the psyche as the overall evolutionary effect of macroscopic ordering parameters operating within the brain.

Chaos theory geometrically describes complex systems in terms of their trajectories through a suitable phase space. Often mass or momentum can be used for a phase space axis. However, the momentum of the psyche has yet to be measured. Measurable parameters for the brain and psyche have not yet been determined. When these are selected and agreed upon, it is likely that phase space maps of the psyche will show the presence of a chaotic attractor. Bütz (1992) shows that such an attractor could be compared to the Eastern mandala, a Jungian symbol for the archetypal self. In this sense, the self can be viewed as a mandala-like attractor drawing psychic energy toward its evolutionary goal as part of Jung's individuation process.

Just as the brain is comprised of a host of interrelated components, so Jung's psyche is comprised of numerous complexes, instincts, and archetypes. These parts, together with the libido, work together to form macrocosmic ordering parameters which are the feelings, thoughts, and memories, that make up the personality or ego-complex--that part of the psyche which is conscious.

Both energy and information are continually exchanged between the brain and psyche. Jung (1973) states that psychic energy or libido generally remains conserved over time which implies that its exchanges with the brain tend to balance out. But information is not conserved. Incoming information must be given meaning before it is useful. This could be explained as a synergetic process that creates order out of apparent chaos.



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