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The Future of an Illusion – Freud and Beyond

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smoking cigar. Español: Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, fumando. Česky: Zakladatel psychoanalýzy Sigmund Freud kouří doutník. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Future of an Illusion is Sigmund Freud’s work of 1927 where he states his psychoanalytic view of religion. Freud is a staunch materialist who sees all religious ideas as illusory:

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tells one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.” Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.” Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment, “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.”¹

When I was a teenager I probably would have agreed with Freud on many points. But when I first realized that there’s more to life than sex, aggression, society and internalized norms, I came to disagree with Freud. I remember thinking how his reductive thinking could literally be dangerous to a spiritual seeker. I also recall talking with an employee in a spiritual bookstore who said, “Freud will drive you crazy, Jung won’t.” This was when I was beginning my PhD program and purchasing some core books by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who figured prominently in my doctoral thesis.

Today, my view of Freud is not entirely negative. After converting to Catholicism I realized, from direct observation and interaction with some Catholics, that religion and neurosis, perhaps even psychosis, can coexist. While I was converting to Catholicism, the elderly priest who guided our RCIA suggested that “some insane people hide out in religion.”

I thought he was being a bit harsh at the time. But recently a Catholic parishioner whom I’ve known on and off for over a decade has started cursing and swearing at others in the Mass. Just the other day I was the recipient of her verbal attack, which was unsettling, to put it mildly.

Funnily enough, this person seems to be convinced that she knows better than everyone else. It was okay for her to swear in Church—I just didn’t understand. And after I gently suggested that she need not swear at people in the Mass, she said I was a %$%$#@$#@!

Not too holy. More like angry and conflicted.

This just goes to show that Freud and the RCIA priest weren’t entirely wrong. Some religious people really are quite borderline. And they do seem to hide out in Church instead of getting the help or spiritual direction they need.

So these days I can see that Freud, indeed, had something to say. However, I still disagree with Freud’s ideas in the sense that spiritual influences, as I see it, qualitatively differ from biochemical and social influences.

For me, the main questions concerning religion and psychology are:

  • Is one’s approach to religion healthy or unhealthy?
  • Could excessive prayers and countless Rosaries be a way of avoiding unresolved complexes?

With regard to the second point, I think in some instances this might be so.

Like myself, Jung didn’t reject Freudian ideas outright but came to see Freud’s view of religion and, especially spirituality, as lacking. At one time a key player in the Freudian school, Jung eventually went his own way and expanded Freud’s reductive view of spirituality with concepts like archetype, synchronicity and numinosity.

¹ Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961, p. 38. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future_of_an_Illusion


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Charles Hartshorne – Does God Grow With Experience?

Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) – Image via Wikipedia

Charles Hartshorne  (1897-2000) was an American theologian who developed Alfred North Whitehead‘s idea of an organic, interactive process into a version of Process Theology.

Wikipedia traces his views to the ancient Greek Heraclitus, who emphasized change with his famous line, “you cannot step into the same river twice.” Heraclitus also believed that religious signs could be received through the oracle at Delphi. But Hartshorne’s theological system arguably adds a bit more to the picture than mere change and signs (we don’t know what Heraclitus fully believed in because only fragments of his work survive).

Hartshorne upholds the idea that God has a separate existence but is also present in the world. To me this is explained by the already existing ideas of transcendence and immanence (not imminence). Wikipedia explains Hartshorne’s view:

One of the technical terms Hartshorne used is pan-en-theism, originally coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1828. Panentheism (all is in God) must be differentiated from Classical pantheism (all is God). In Hartshorne’s theology God is not identical with the world, but God is also not completely independent from the world. God has his self-identity that transcends the earth, but the world is also contained within God. A rough analogy is the relationship between a mother and a fetus. The mother has her own identity and is different from the unborn, yet is intimately connected to the unborn. The unborn is within the womb and attached to the mother via the umbilical cord.¹

However, Hartshorne took on classical theologians by taking a more Jungian approach to God. For both Jung and Hartshorne, God is not omniscient but learns as s/he goes along. Unlike classical definitions of God’s perfection, Hartshorne believes that being perfect does not entail knowing everything. Rather, it means knowing and feeling more through experience.

God is capable of surpassing himself by growing and changing in his knowledge and feeling for the world.²

Myself, I think this is a flawed view, one born of a lack of intellectual humility. It’s fine to try to understand God and the workings of God. But whenever a human being makes some kind of definitive statement about knowing God, that’s where I draw the line.

However, if someone says they believe that God has certain qualities and behaves in such a way, I can take them far more seriously. In my view, everything comes down to belief in one way or another. But not everyone appreciates this idea. The human mind is easily hoodwinked into confusing belief with knowledge.

The statue of Plato in front of the Academy of Athens

The distinction between belief and knowledge goes back to another ancient Greek, Plato. Plato, however, held a different view than mine. He believed that knowledge (as justified true belief – episteme)³ was superior to:

  • an opinion that seems to be or may be true but is accepted on the basis of a weak argument (dogma)
  • popular belief (doxa)

By way of contrast, I maintain that for a rational, reflective mind, everything comes down to belief—true, false or partly true belief. We may say we have reason to believe but, as human beings, we can never really know. We have to believe.4

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hartshorne

² Ibid.

³ This type of knowledge is differentiated from knowledge of a craft (techne). And some scholars rightly ask, what does full “justification” for episteme require? See a good discussion here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

4 To defend this view I’d probably have to go into a lengthy philosophical argument, and this entry is not the place for that. However, if anyone wishes to further discuss in the comments area, I will try to outline my position (providing I felt that the discussion was positive enough to justify the time and energy spent on it). I say this because I tried to explain my position once at the David Bowie site with a bookish “intellectual” hooked on a particular philosopher and found that I was just wasting my time and energy. As with most unproductive internet debates, we don’t always carefully read or reply to things we don’t understand, perhaps cannot understand, or consciously or subconsciously do not wish or believe it necessary to understand. And some apparently just want to win an argument rather than learn and grow from it. I’m not saying I’m immune to this pretty common situation. But I don’t waste time and energy if I see myself falling into it.


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Rupert Sheldrake and Morphogenetic Fields

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciou...

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciousness, Tucson, Arizona via Wikipedia

Morphogenetic fields is a biological term adapted by the English biochemist Rupert Sheldrake to suggest that evolution is a transference of past habits to present ones.¹

Sheldrake says morphogenetic fields have “physical effects” but “are not made of matter.” In contrast to the idea of morphic resonance, which deals with chemical and species behavior over a distance, morphogenetic fields are localized and refer to the development of chemical and biological forms.

When I last wrote this entry, the morphic field was described as a larger family of morphogenetic fields. But today the line seems blurred. Sheldrake himself says that morphic fields are hierarchically nested. So it seems that the two terms are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable.  Most likely he is streamlining his terminology to make his ideas more accessible.

Sheldrake has gathered archival and previously ignored “anomalous” scientific data that he believes supports his theories. He says morphogenetic fields may explain Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious but does not consider the possible influence of the future on the present, as Jung would.² Also, his theory does not consider possible spiritual influences from heavenly and hellish realms.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home he adapts mathematician Rene Thom’s notion of the “attractor” and says habits “come only from the past, not from the future.”³

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and A...

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would become highly revered in the medieval Islamic world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look at Aristotle‘s view of causality within the time frame pertaining to evolutionary theory, Aristotle’s thinking is not entirely unlike Sheldrake’s. Aristotle outlines four interrelated causes: material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotle includes a “prime mover” which exists outside of space and time. In Wim Kayzer‘s  A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle (1993), it’s clear that Sheldrake is not antagonistic to divine ideas. But he doesn’t seem to fully integrate all that theology has to offer within his scientific theories.

Although Sheldrake’s concepts have caught on within some New Age circles, to some paranormal investigators they seem limiting. Conversely, not a few scientists and skeptics, alike, say his theories are too general or paranormal (connoting “unfounded” or perhaps “speculative”).

To his credit, Sheldrake does advocate a scientific approach to parapsychology. But just what type of science is most appropriate to the study of parapsychology remains debatable. After all, science is variously defined. And those who favor and, perhaps, benefit from a given scientific approach usually champion that approach as if it were the gospel truth. And their own human limits probably prohibit them from seeing things differently.4

¹ Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, New York: Crown, 1999, p. 305.

² See this » Click Here

³ Sheldrake, Dogs That Know, pp. 304, 306.

4 When I was even more of an unknown than now, I wrote Dr. Sheldrake via snailmail with images of some Indian dogs (taken during my M.A. in India). These dogs  seemed to know when challenger dogs were going to invade their turf, well beyond the range of sight, scent and sound. Dr. Sheldrake replied cordially, which was surprising given his stature. So I can see why he has a considerable youth following. He seems like a decent person who cares about the advancement of knowledge—and not just a paycheck, like some professors I’ve known.

On the Web

Related » St. Augustine, Synchronicity


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The Philosopher’s Stone

Kristaps Bergfelds – Philosopher’s stone via Flickr

The Philosopher’s Stone is an idea described in medieval and ancient alchemical texts. The concept is variously linked to the quest for heaven, immortality, vitality, and also to turning base metals into silver or gold.

According to C. G. Jung’s analytical psychology, the Philosopher’s Stone is a symbol of the inner self, said to exist within the entire self.

As the above photo demonstrates, the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone has a wide range of applications. Here, we see a young woman apparently reflecting on something deep or of special significance.

Related » Alchemy, Hero


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Psychoid – Not another Norman Bates movie!

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word psychoid sounds a bit like a sequel to the famous Norman Bates film, or maybe another video game about killing for points. But it’s neither of those things.

According to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, the psychoid  is the transcendental aspect of an archetype. In contrast to the archetypal images, which we can perceive and talk about, the psychoid can never reach consciousness. We can, however, form a concept about it, as Jung did.

Jung introduced the idea of the psychoid to try to account for the duality of matter and energyHe also wanted to distinguish between the symbol and the true essence of the thing symbolized.

This kind of thinking is nothing new. For centuries philosophers and theologians have differentiated between God, the unknowable, and God with perceptible qualities. Like Jung, some philosophers and theologians say we can never fully know the absolute; however, most would agree that we can discuss it using abstract concepts.

Other thinkers tend to link experience with ultimate reality, perhaps overlooking the idea of psychological and cultural filters that might color our perception of the apparently absolute.¹

Jung, himself, had studied Kant who also makes a distinction between that which is unknowable via the senses (noumenon) and that which can be apprehended through the senses (phenomenon).

¹ A detailed yet accessible discussion of the personal in relation to the absolute can be found in John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, 2nd ed. 1966, pp. 48-94. To say that different thinkers make this distinction in no way implies that all of their distinctions are identical. Usually we find subtle or obvious differences, which some New Age and pop psychology pundits tend to overlook.

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Robin – archetypal apprentice or unspoken lover?

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Al...

Batman with his sidekick Robin. Painting by Alex Ross, based on the cover of Batman #9 by Jack Burnley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also known as “The Boy Wonder,” Robin is Batman‘s sidekick. He arguably represents the younger half of an archetypal master-apprentice or teacher-disciple relationship.

At least, that’s a Jungian interpretation. It has also been suggested that the relationship between Batman and Robin has homosexual overtones, especially in the TV show. Carl Jung tended to see homosexuality as a developmental problem, so I’m not sure how he’d depict this particular relationship within his archetypal theory.¹

¹ Jung’s ideas can be too vague and conjectural at times for my liking. To his credit, Jung, himself, admits that he is simply making a modern myth. He doesn’t claim to have the final word. Those interested in his views about homosexuality might find some ideas here.

C. G. Jung on Risk and Safety

OUTstage – GLBT Theatre Fest – BENT

FACT CHECK: Homosexual behavior present in animals, Manny

Why Men Stomp on Homosexuality

Why Are So Many Animals Homosexual? – Facts So Romantic

80 Percent of Black Men in Atlanta are Gay?


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Surya (Asian deity/deities)

Konark Sun Temple Panoramic View via Wikipedia

One of the main identities of Surya is an Indian sun god associated with fantastic temples, like that found at Konark.

Like most mythic beings, Surya appears in different contexts. The deity variously exhibits divine, semi-divine and aristocratic attributes, according to the tradition in which it has evolved. This variety poses a problem to archetypal theorists who tend to simply complex mythic histories by interpreting them in vague, watered-down “general principles”—e.g. Great Mother, The Wizard, The Wise Old Man.¹

Surya or the Sun God, Konark.

Surya or the Sun God, Konark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon closer inspection much of the data forced into conceptual boxes by archetypal theorists is far more inconsistent and variable than they claim. Mythic and religious data is linked to politics, economics, geography, and war. With war we find that the aggressive movement of populations usually results in the conquest and subjugation of peoples, whose gods may be replaced, adapted or tolerated by the conquerors, who themselves almost always introduce something new to the cultural and religious landscape.

In defending their archetypal position, theorists like Joseph Campbell and C. G. Jung assert that they’ve distilled the underlying essence or commonality among various cultural expressions of an archetype. To distinguish a cultural manifestation from the archetype, proper, they use the term archetypal image. Archetypal images of a given archetype vary, but the underlying archetype behind its imagery is (supposedly) one and the same.

To my mind that’s like saying all cities are “the same” because they share core elements such as people, a downtown, suburbs, roads, utilities, government and housing. Anyone who has compared a developing to a developed city will find it a gross simplification to say that all cities are “the same.” And so it is, I would argue, with those archetypal theorists who claim that all myths and religions are “the same.” It’s an unwarranted simplification often made with good intentions, out of political correctness, or perhaps through lack of experience.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See the following for the tremendous variety found in the Surya character, according to Asian tradition and scripture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya

¹In the Star Wars mythos Obi Wan Kenobi arguably plays a dual role of the Wizard and the Wise Old Man. Filmmaker George Lucas actually consulted the mythographer Joseph Campbell to facilitate the idea that Star Wars would tell a modern story with timeless, mythic appeal. So, in fairness, we could say that the success of Star Wars throws a vote in favor of the archetypal theorists and their tendency to generalize. However, many films use so-called archetypal ideas and bomb at the box office. So that’s clearly not enough for the making of a blockbuster.

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