The podcast reviewed here is the 21st episode in John Betts series on Jungian Analytic Psychology and is freely available here (The 20th episode is a re-recording of one of the earlier episodes). In my opinion this is one of the most important episodes in the series as Betts integrates a number of concepts from earlier episodes. In this episode there is a focus on the active imagination and the ‘transcendental function’. Betts begins by telling the listener about the active imagination which is the use of the imagination to engage with unconscious material. Along the way he raises a number of points. One of these which I found quite interesting was that of a dialectic between the consciousness and the unconsciousness. Even more interesting was Betts discussion of the difference between the approaches of Jung and Freud. He characterised Freud’s approach as one which considered the unconsciousness as a repository for repressions – representations of the past. On the other hand he refers to Jung’s conceptualisation of the unconsciousness as one in which the psyche is shaping its future actively, as in the process of individuation. In this sense, I couldn’t help but think, maybe too simplistically of Freud’s model being an illness model and Jung’s being a health model. Freud’s model of the psyche is more sophisticated than this of course and this is more a caricature than anything else. However, if during the course of classical psychoanalysis, the difficulties during development are identified and addressed then this in some senses a ‘deficit’ model. In other words something ought to have occurred and it didn’t. With Jung’s model, the psyche has a ‘built-in’ mechanism for moving forwards – a sense of direction.
Betts then looks at Jung’s writing on the transition from the unconsciousness (U) to the consciousness (C) and refers to a number of characteristics of this transition. Thus in order to move from U to C, the U process must be sufficiently ‘strong’ and also ‘compatible’ with C. Jung wrote about a transcendent function which facilitated the movement from U to C and which went unpublished for many decades. What I found particularly interesting about these rules (there were two others also) was that it is possible to think of a biological correlate. More explicitly if part of the brain is in conscious awareness at any given time and the remainder is in unconsciousness then it could be argued that there are patterns of brain activation in these unconscious areas. If these areas do not have ‘high’ levels of activation then they do not reach consciousness. Furthermore, could these patterns of activation be equivalent to the patterns of activation we see on fMRI scans? Thus brain regions would have to reach a certain threshold of firing to enter ‘consciousness’. There are many reasons why this might not work but it could be made to work from a biological perspective and does fit in with fMRI paradigms, that is that researchers tend to look for patterns of correlation between suprathreshold firing in brain regions and phenomenological experiences. The many reasons that it might not work include the possibility that it is a pattern of activation rather than overcoming a threshold level that might account for consciousness or else it might be activity that occurs in a certain brain region. Nevertheless, it is possible to see how a bridge could be built between two paradigms. Indeed this account could be brought back into the Jungian model and explored further as could the alternative regarding a pattern of activation. If for example, Jung’s use of the term unconsciousness refers to all subthreshold firing activity in the brain then it could be argued that the Insular cortex is the seat of the ‘unconsciousness’ since it is always providing some level of activation even when the subject is not registering such activity (This is all speculation of course). Furthermore this extension of Jung’s theory would imply that the subthreshold firing patterns though not registering in the subjects awareness are contributing to
What I also found interesting was that there should be some compatability between C and U, for U to access C. This can to some extent be tested using thought experiments and introspection. Suppose for example that I am attending to the words on this page. Suppose also that I have several things that I need to do that I have thought about a few hours previously. On reading a particular word, I may trigger a memory of one of those things that I had to do, but in order for this to occur, it had to be associated with the focus for my conscious attention. This is a rather crude example and can also be thought of as an example of associative learning. Thus I have learned that an object is attached to a label (i.e. the descriptive name for that object) and the presentation of that label triggers the memory that has been associated with that object. Thus a chain of associations is activated resulting in me recalling that I have to do something. In this way, one part of the unconsciousness which was compatible with my stream of conscious experience entered consciousness. This is a rather superficial example but i’m sure the same example can be extended to the therapeutic work.
What this example also demonstrates is that the same phenomena can be expressed very differently according to the paradigm. The behaviourist might think of it one way, the Jungian Analyst might think of it another while the neuroscientist may have an another model. There is undoubtedly though, something that they all share in their explanations if they are all valid, and there is something that they are all able to bring to the discussion. Ultimately however these languages must be reconciled. All too often, this reconciliation does not occur and languages become lost as certain models become less fashionable. The difficulty in mastering two or more of these ‘languages’ means that there are very few who are able to bridge the gap and such is the extent of the knowledge base in these different areas that even two people who have a good working knowledge of two paradigms may put them together in very different ways*.
I found many interesting and thought provoking ideas in this podcast episode and it is one that I think would repay close study for those interested in this area.
*Perhaps the use of modelling software will help to bridge such gaps. Thus if the rules for different paradigms can be successfully incorporated into computer models, these models can be tested against each other using simulations and combined. Such development would also require testing under research conditions with participants to see if the model’s predictions are verified by observations.
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