Jung today: An interview with Dr. John Ryan Haule

Rider, by H. Kopp Delaney

“Spirituality is not an automatic consequence of an archetypal image cropping up.  Spirituality depends on what we do with the image and the emotional state it generates in our body and mind.”

Snowflake by Simply InnocuousWinterviews continues today.  From the Solstice till Imbolc, we’re bringing you non-stop interviews and other goodies from big-name authors:

Today we interview Jungian analyst Dr. John Ryan Haule, author of the two-volume work Jung in the 21st Century.

Jung in the 21st Century, Volume One: Evolution and Archetypes, by John Ryan Haule

B. T. Newberg:  I’ve heard that Jungian psychology is currently undergoing something of a renaissance.  Is that true, and if so, what do you think is driving it?

John Ryan Haule:  It’s true. We Jungian analysts have for a long time not been happy with Jung’s popular reputation as Guru of the New Age, implying that he traded in hare-brained, feel-good notions that have little foundation in reality.  When we look more closely at the theories he crafted a century ago, we find that they are strongly supported by today’s evolutionary science.  As a result they can be applied with confidence and relevance to the personal and cultural issues of our day.

BTN:  If you were limited to one single point to best express the enduring relevance of Jung in this day and age, what would it be?

Jung in the 21st Century, Volume Two: Science and SynchronicityJRH:  Jung has given us a psychology that is securely based in the biology of our organism and capable of altered states of consciousness that expand the legitimate range of human experience to include shamanism, alchemy, mysticism, ritual and other activities by which we humans have historically searched for the meaning of our existence.

BTN:  So, in that sense, Jung is able to help us re-enchant the world, not by retreating from modern science but by embracing it?

JRH:  Astrophysicist Adam Frank calls our drive to re-enchant the world “the constant fire” (the title of his book).  All of us burn to discern what is true and real.  In this effort, science and mythology depend on one another.  Science digs out the facts, and myth intuits a holistic perspective to make meaningful sense of those facts.

Jung urged his college debating society, “Zofingia” at the University of Basel, to use their scientific training to tackle the issues science had been avoiding (life, consciousness, parapsychology).  He spent a quarter century in dialogue with quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli refining his notion of synchronicity.  A mythic perspective that is out of harmony with the world science describes cannot enchant the world.  It can only ignore the world.

BTN:  There is a growing awareness in the Pagan community, a few decades late perhaps, that Jung’s archetypes have been mis-handled to some extent in popular spirituality.  For example, one of our contributing authors, John Halstead, recently wrote:

“Jung’s ideas have been watered down so that the term “archetype” has (incorrectly) become synonymous with “metaphor”… The archetypes are not metaphors.  They are form without content, potentialities rather than actualities.  Their existence can only be inferred from our experience of archetypal images, which are necessarily only partial expressions of the archetype.”

Granting this mis-handling, what advice would you give to those who desire to continue drawing spiritual inspiration from Jung but in a more appropriate way?

JRH:  Halstead is right.  Archetypes are species-specific patterns of behavior.  In Jung’s favorite example, the yucca moth’s complex reproductive activity begins without practice or learning the moment the moth perceives a yucca flower in bloom.  The blossom itself is the “archetypal image” that triggers the behavior and gives it direction.

Archetypal images that trigger and direct the goal of human sexuality are many and varied (divine mothers and their son-lovers, Shakti dancing on the corpse of Shiva, nuns enraptured by a sensory vision of Jesus).  Our human freedom in experiencing the archetypes contrasts starkly with the closed archetypal program of the insects.  This, no doubt, is what Halstead means by “form without content.”  Similarly, Jung describes archetypes as “complexities within complexities.”

Everything we do is to some extent directed by an archetype.  Spirituality is not an automatic consequence of an archetypal image cropping up.  Spirituality depends on what we do with the image and the emotional state it generates in our body and mind.

BTN:  So, just to make sure we’re all on the same page, the archetype is the yucca moth’s pre-installed software that reads any yucca blossom as a trigger to run its reproductive behavior program, while the specific blossom that trips that trigger is the archetypal image – yes?  And in the same way, our human archetypes are pre-installed software that read certain images as triggers of specific behaviors, while specific deities such as Shakti are archetypal images that trip those triggers?

JRH:  Yes, you have described the archetypal situation of the yucca moth correctly.  And it works the same way with us humans – for example, at the sight of a painting of Shakti.  But a similar event can also occur in the opposite direction.  If I dream of a seductive and well-armed goddess, the dream image is a response to my having entered the physiological state of sexual arousal in my sleep.  Why the image is of a naked goddess like Shakti and not a bespectacled and fully clothed librarian has much to do with my own personal psychology.

BTN:  This might be a good point to turn to your two-volume book, Jung in the 21st Century, which attempts to show Jung’s compatibility with cutting-edge science.  In Volume One, you make a case that what Jung called archetypes may be what cognitive science now calls mental modules.  For example, language is held up as a “model archetype.”  Could you briefly summarize the comparison between archetypes and modules?

JRH:  It was the language of Evolutionary Psychology speaking of “mental modules” that alerted me some fifteen years ago to the fact that there was a major movement afoot that was talking about inherited aspects of psychology without realizing that they had discovered a fundamental position of Jung’s.

As I began to read their writings, however, I found that they tend to make a lot of questionable assumptions.  For example, Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, for all its admirable qualities, assumes that because humans speak and chimps do not that language is a module unique to humans – that certain mutations occurred millions of years ago which separated us humans absolutely from other primates.  As I pursued this issue, I discovered that though we speak and our primate relatives do not, they are in constant and detailed communication with one another at all times.  Chimpanzees, bonobos, capuchin monkeys, baboons and others have been found to express sophisticated social knowledge in their calls and gestures. Communication of this sort is part of the larger picture whereby all primates (humans included) have always depended on our “sociality” for survival in a world inhabited by animals that are much stronger and faster than we.  We need to live in groups to survive, and to make intergroup friends who will protect us from the hostility of some of our neighbors.

Language is another one of those “complexities within complexities” that Jung talked about.  It’s but one form of communication, and there are other forms that social living requires, and all forms of communication are part of the larger complexity that is sociality.  Jung viewed evolution as the foundation of our interrelatedness with the rest of the living cosmos rather than what made us humans exceptional.  For this reason I have down-played the expression “mental module”:  to distance myself from what I consider to be a flawed set of assumptions.

In other respects, however, archetypes might very well be called mental modules.  Pinker rightly points out that we humans develop a vocabulary of thousands of words and the grammar to use them very suddenly around the age of three years.  It seems to be another faculty that “comes of age” in us at a typical time – not unlike puberty and our dreams of sexy goddesses.

BTN:  Fair enough.  It seems to me, though, that these “model archetypes” like language and sociality just don’t jibe with how Jung described archetypes.  For example, you quote Jung:

“When an archetype ‘becomes conscious, it is felt as strange, uncanny, and at the same time fascinating.  At all events the conscious mind falls under its spell… [it] always produces a state of alienation’ (CW8: 590)” (quoted on p. 145).

Further, experiencing an archetype leads to altered states of consciousness and has the power to effect psychological transformation (p. 146).  These descriptions just don’t seem to fit examples like language or sociality.  How can these be models for what Jung described?

JRH:  I’m glad you asked that question, because in the previous question about archetypes/mental modules, I neglected to say that the term “mental module” is misleading because archetypes actually are whole-body states and not merely confined to the mind.  When an archetype is “constellated,” as Jung says, the whole body is involved.  It’s usually a strong emotional state, so the autonomic nervous system is activated, hormones are dispatched, and we feel in the grip of a distinctive type of arousal.

These emotional facts may not seem to be true of language and sociality.  But watch a child between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half in the grip of excitement over his budding language capacity.  I recall my son some decades ago exuberantly trying out new words and expressions and watching for my reaction out of the corner of his eye.  His daughter, who just turned three, herself, lost her reputation as an enfant terrible when she learned some words to make her demands clear.  Language is thoroughly a joy to her.

Regarding sociality, I would point out how thoroughly addicted we are to gossip – what anthropologist Robin Dunbar calls the human replacement for primate grooming activity.  Attention to what everyone else is up to, how they are engaged with one another, who’s winning and who’s losing constitutes the foundation of soap-opera popularity and the multitude of “reality shows” that have taken over prime-time TV.  We love that stuff.  It gives us a sense of how we fit in to our society.  We identify with the winners, grieve with the losers, and feel superior to half of the contestants.  It’s an emotional experience.

BTN:  All right, I’m starting to understand better what you mean.  Since you also argue that archetypes are nested within each other, such as language within the larger archetype of sociality, I suppose it makes sense that some will be experienced as more broad and fundamental, others more specific and uncanny. 

Now I’d like to zero in on the latter.  Some people, myself included, may have been accustomed to thinking of archetypes as rather mysterious sub-personalities, almost like separate beings buried in the unconscious, that make contact with us through dreams and reveal things we normally can’t see.  In Volume Two, for example, you write:

“Jung described his method of doing analysis: namely to set the conditions and then wait for what he called the two-million year-old wise man, the personification of the collective unconscious, to appear” (p. 71). 

How does this type of archetype fit into your view?

JRH:  What Jung calls the two-million year-old man personifies a type of human experience familiar to him from his practice of analysis.  He learned to personify the figures that appeared in his fantasies, to take them as aspects of his psyche that have views and experiences of their own that differ from those of his ego – to take those alien opinions as seriously as he did those of his neighbors on Seestrasse.  The “two-million years” suggests the entire experience of the human race, at least as far back as Homo erectus.  The wise man personifies the collective unconscious.

How does this wise-man phenomenon count as an archetype?  The typical human behavior pattern that makes it an archetype resembles what we often call “telepathy.”  Unconscious communication happens with some frequency in analytic sessions, where analyst and analysand may read one another’s minds, usually quite innocently.  For example, I try to clarify what my analysand means by saying, “Oh, it’s as though you . . .” and then make up a couple of names to populate a story that sorts out in my mind what I thought my patient had just said.  My client is shocked and says, “How did you know my mother-in-law’s name?”  I didn’t.  I also didn’t know he’d been talking about his mother-in-law.  I simply “invented” a random name, but his reaction tells me that I must have unconsciously read his mind.

These things happen to people who are emotionally open to one another.  They happen to lovers quite frequently.  Allowing words, images, and ideas to emerge freely out of the unconscious is a technique of focused reverie that Jung named “active imagination.”  He said it allows us “to get our moods to speak to us.”  He means that the spontaneous appearance of images always expresses the emotional state we are in – whether we are aware of that state or not.

When two people are open to one another, they share an emotional field.  In such a situation, the memories, images, etc., that pop up in my mind will also be relevant to you, for they are inspired by the emotion we share.  Such things are just “given ” to us, as by a third party – and potentially a very wise third party, one who has the experience of the human race at his or her disposal.  When we encounter such wisdom, we are impressed by its profundity.  It has a “numinous” effect upon us.

BTN:  “Telepathy” and “an emotional field” – now we are getting into a different head space.  Volume One of your book, entitled “Evolution and Archetype”, has a very different character from Volume Two, “Synchronicity and Science.”  The former seems to show where Jung remains compatible with mainstream contemporary science, the latter where he diverges from it significantly.  How do Jung’s ideas critique and challenge modern science?

JRH:  You’re absolutely right.  There are two aspects to Jung and science, and I agree with Routledge, my publisher, that it makes sense to have divided my manuscript into two volumes, one for each aspect. 

Volume One makes the case that Jung had a high respect for the science of his day and developed theories that not only were in accord with early twentieth century science, but open to developments that have occurred in the last several decades in evolution, neuroscience, animal behavior, anthropology, and the like.

Then in Volume Two I take up the side of Jung that criticized science for wanting to keep its head in the sand and ignore such obvious facts as life, consciousness, intentionality and parapsychology.  His published works include his lectures to his fellow science students at the University of Basel in the 1890’s as well as his article on synchronicity from the 1950’s. 

There’s no question that parapsychological events take place: shamanic healing, telepathy, clairvoyance, and the like.  The problem has been that no one has a theory to explain these things in terms that accord with the presumptions of twentieth century science. 

At bottom the issue comes down to seeing, hearing, knowing and acting in a manner that effects changes across some distance.  Every time western science has been stymied by action-at-a-distance (gravity, magnetism, quantum non-locality) it has solved the problem by describing a field.  For instance, Einstein described the field of gravity in terms of distortions in space-time. 

In accord with such developments, and in dialogue with quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jung proposes that, in addition to the fields just mentioned, the universe is also governed by a “psychoid” principle.  A psychoid field would favor the cooperation of particles in building a cosmos in which life, intentionality – indeed psyche – are not inexplicable exceptions but fundamental to cosmic process. 

Such a perspective does not deny anything that materialistic, reductive science has discovered – hence the argument of my first volume.  But it does propose that a new metaphysics that is open to life, intentionality and consciousness will enable science to expand into “the border zones of exact science”, as he said in 1896 when he was a twenty-one year-old medical student.

BTN:  How have the ideas in your two-volume work been received by other Jungians?  Does this represent where the field has gone, or is it a view just emerging, struggling for acceptance?

I gather there has been a favorable reception.  Sales have been good, and I’ve been told that copies are flying off the shelves at the bookstore of the C. G. Jung Institute, Zurich.  I’ve been invited to lecture on the book next month at the International School for Analytical Psychology, Zurich, and the New York Jung Foundation is sponsoring a conference based on the book next Fall.  A favorable review has been published in a recent issue of the Journal of Analytical Psychology.

I hope the book has blazed a trail for future work, but there is another contemporary direction in Jungian studies, one that follows complexity theory.

BTN:  Really?  Would you like to tell us a little about that complexity theory direction?

JRH:  Complexity theory is an off-shoot of chaos theory.  At the edge between chaos and order, it seems that unexpected and unpredictable forms of new order spontaneously appear.  They are said to “emerge.”  Jung’s archetypes that have generated so much controversy and confusion as to be an embarrassment to some Jungians can be justified by complexity theory as regularly emerging, higher forms of order.
In my opinion this is an interesting but empty fact.  To follow this road exclusively is to keep the archetypes in the realm of magical and inexplicable realities, where they shimmer as spiritual reassurances. 

Psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens, who was the first to look for the biological origin of archetypes, said, “Jungians are mesmerized by symbols.”  I believe it’s important to know something about the bodily “depths” out of which archetypes have emerged and to see that body and psyche are two mutually implicated aspects of our organism, to apprehend nature as diverse but unitary, and to acknowledge our profound relationship with all beings.  Even amoebas and bacteria have psyches, albeit simple ones.  Psyche doesn’t emerge from brain;  it’s to be found at least wherever life is found, even in life forms too simple to have a nervous system.  There is always consciousness and intentionality, at least in the form of the drive to survive and thrive from one instant to the next.

By the way, I’m surprised we haven’t even mentioned Paganism.  It seems to me that the previous paragraph ought to be of interest to Contemporary Pagans.  If Paganism is a stance that rejects the super-human-man-with-a-beard who lives outside the universe as its creator, rule giver and judge, Jung’s perspective has something to say to Pagans.  For him the divine probably resembles what the alchemists of the Middle Ages called the “world soul,” Anima Mundi, or the Chinese notion of Tao:  a deeply in-dwelling spirit that is something like cosmic and organismic process.

BTN:  Indeed.  I think most Pagans do reject that kind of deity that stands outside nature, though there is a great variety of interpretations of the nature of deities within nature.  We here at HP are mostly naturalists, locating the divine wholly within nature and consistent with modern science, so far as possible.  The Jungian archetype is one major thread used to understand how experiences of divinity emerge, but as we’ve seen there is room for improvement in how accurately we apply that concept.

Well, this exchange has been nothing if not provocative.  Thanks very much for speaking with us.  It’s been enlightening.

JRH:  I agree.  It was fun and helpful, as well.

The author

John Ryan Haule

John Ryan Haule: On my way to an early-morning organic chemistry class one day in the early 1960’s, I had a brief life-transforming religious experience. Having been raised Catholic, I interpreted the event in Christian terms and, after graduation, entered something like a monastery. There I encountered Jung’s writings and became convinced that there was nothing distinctively Christian about my experience. It was simply human and archetypal. I then left the religious order and earned a doctorate in religious studies, writing my dissertation on Jung and Heidegger. I taught in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University for three years before heading for Zurich where I underwent analytic training. I have been practicing Jungian analysis more than thirty years and am the author of eight books and numerous articles.

Please check out my website (www.jrhaule.net) for more information on my interests.

10 Comments on “Jung today: An interview with Dr. John Ryan Haule

  1. “I believe it’s important to know something about the bodily “depths” out of which archetypes have emerged and to see that body and psyche are two mutually implicated aspects of our organism …”

    Wow! I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this John and Brandon. I find it fascinating that Jung defined the archetypes as inherited structures of the brain which had evolved over millennia, but also (as you point out in your book) insisted that psyche could not be reduced to brain or brain chemistry.

    And I very much agree that “Jung’s perspective has something to say to Pagans.”

    In addition to being a Jungophile, I am a big fan of Heidegger — although I he is much harder to wrap my mind around than Jung. I had never thought of how the two might be integrated. How can I find a copy of your dissertation?

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