Yesterday I left off after asserting that something I would insist upon in describing psychological types is the significance of “gestalt,” or the interaction between the four most used functions, and how they are supposed to alternate between extroverted and introverted, so that an “introverted person” is a person whose strongest, most preferred function is introverted, but they have a secondary function that is extroverted — and not only a weaker version of their preferred function, but a different one. I would insist upon it as an essential safeguard of psychological complexity — the person is then not so much introverted or extroverted straight-up, as on a gradient scale, but is more adept and conserves energy better with the introverted function — but they also use the extroverted functions to a greater and lesser degree depending upon other factors, including how much they’ve needed them.
I could go on, there are other interesting conclusions to be found. But at this point I’m faced with reason for pause. Jungian psychological language is attractive because it is descriptive more often than prescriptive, and any psychological language is attractive in forming a coherent system without too much ineffable in it. But in The negative is the criterion of the positive I began by considering that one of the chief weaknesses of pop religious books is often the flattening of mysteries into psychological barriers, and that’s a problem. Thinking turned in on itself has a danger of ending up in little loops that leave out what is really most interesting about people and life as it is actually lived.
I’ve been reading another book lately, Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson. I’m not sure what all she says in it because I haven’t given it the attention it requires (hers is a very precise and forceful mind), but the main drift seems to be that what modern pseudoscientific accounts of the human person most leave out is precisely life as it is actually experienced, and the most commonly neglected motives are those which we actually feel and choose. It’s because your genes need to reproduce; they gave you a sensation at though you love your children, but really it’s just biological imperative. There’s a strong and unhealthy tendency toward “really just” statements, as with Hume’s philosophy. You think you admire your mother, but it’s really just misplaced libido. You thought you felt God as being near, but really that was just an abnormality of the blood flow to your brain. What these modernist pseudoscientific explanations have in common is that they most want to explain by explaining away. There’s no mystery here. That ghost you met who warned you to amend your ways was really just a bit of undigested meat. There’s certainly no actual agape love in the world.
But, Ms Robinson says, this account fails to make adequate sense of lived experience, because it mostly accounts for mystery by saying that we live in a constant state of delusion about most everything. But if selfishness is really at the center of everything, wouldn’t it have been much simpler to have evolved a mind that was alright with selfishness — that understood that it really wanted to rescue a drowning child because he might have some genes in common, and perhaps my child might produce offspring with him? Why evolve a mind that finds explanations based upon libido and reproduction to be distasteful and unconvincing? Why overshoot the mark by so much? Why a mind that has to constantly deceive itself in order to feel like a decent sort of creature? The explanations don’t explain well at all — they don’t explain life as it appears existentially at all. And Ms Robinson is a novels, greatly concerned with the subtleties of life from the inside.
Jung, however crazy some of his theories are at times (like the one about Pisces and Christianity, for instance), doesn’t generally do that. He’s something of a psychologist mystic. Still, “that’s nothing but” presents a constant temptation in pop psychology. The pull is so strong, sometimes people come across as being reductionist when I really don’t think that’s their intent. I mentioned before a quote by Mr McHugh:
It’s amusing to look back on those moments of despair, when I was screaming “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I realize now that I was not experiencing spiritual disillusionment but simply introvert overload. (39)
“Simply?” You’ve found a way to account for your distress. But is it really a good idea to so discount one’s actual lived experience? Would it really be a good idea to dismiss Prince Andrei’s experience of the sky at Austerlitz as “simply” some kind of psychological compensation mechanism? Sure it is, but that’s the least interesting account. What if the insights seen under stress really can help us see into something? What if there really is something to be seen into?