The undiscovered self

by Carl Gustav Jung

Other authorsR F C. Hull
Book, 1958

Status

Available

Call number

APJ

Call number

APJ

Publication

New American Library, 1958.

Original publication date

1957

Local notes

In this challenging and provocative work, Dr. Carl Jung—one of history’s greatest minds—argues that civilization’s future depends on our ability as individuals to resist the collective forces of society. Only by gaining an awareness and understanding of one’s unconscious mind and true, inner nature—“the undiscovered self”—can we as individuals acquire the self-knowledge that is antithetical to ideological fanaticism. But this requires that we face our fear of the duality of the human psyche—the existence of good and the capacity for evil in every individual.

In this seminal book, Jung compellingly argues that only then can we begin to cope with the dangers posed by mass society—“the sum total of individuals”—and resist the potential threats posed by those in power.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AndrewBlackman
Writing in 1957, Jung is very concerned with the Cold War, Communism and the threat of nuclear disaster. However, his points seem very salient in 2008 as well.

He is alarmed about ‘mass-mindedness’ — the reduction of individuals to anonymous, like-thinking units of humanity, to be manipulated by propaganda and advertising into fulfilling whatever function is required of them by those in power. In his time this was mainly evident in the USSR, but he sees it in Western societies too, and I certainly see strong elements of it today.

He shows that although science tries to impose order on the world, ‘the distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality.’ He gives the example that you could say that each stone in a bed of pebbles weighs an average of 145 grams, but you could go through the whole lot and not find a single one that weighs exactly 145 grams. ‘Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity.’

So large theories and schemes are not the right way to make people happy. They devalue and minimise the individual, making him feel worthless even as ‘humanity’ as a whole makes progress: ‘…man is the slave and victim of the machines that have conquered space and time for him; he is intimidated and endangered by the might of the war technique which is supposed to safeguard his physical existence …. All his achievements and possessions do not make him bigger; on the contrary, they diminish him….’

The key, then, is to understand not humanity as a whole but the individual self. And yet our psyche ‘remains an insoluble puzzle.’ In fact, Jung’s experience as a psychiatrist was that the biggest obstacle to knowledge of the undiscovered self was ‘fear of the discoveries that might be made in the realm of the unconscious.’ He claims that even Freud himself told him that ‘it was necessary to make a dogma of his sexual theory because this was the sole bulwark of reason against a possible “outburst of the black flood of occultism.”‘

Easier, then, is to subordinate the self and go along with everyone else. ‘Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true …. sweetest of all, however, is that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility. All the thinking and looking after are done from the top; to all questions there is an answer; and for all needs the necessary provision is made. The infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks to ask who is paying for this paradise. The balancing of accounts is left to a higher political or social authority, which welcomes the task, for its power is thereby increased; and the more power it has, the weaker and more helpless the individual becomes.’

Again, very familiar!! Jung says that resisting this mass mentality can only be done effectively by the person who understands his own individuality. He advocates a return to the ‘helpful medieval view that man is a microcosm, a reflection of the great cosmos in miniature.’ We have to get ourselves in order before we can get the rest of the world in order. Modern man is estranged from his instincts and taught to distrust them, imposing an alien reason on them and creating a split consciousness. Yet instincts cannot be suppressed — an example is the continued appeal of religion even in the face of knowledge that conflicts with it. Even where we have no religion, we create alternative gods out of money, work, the state, etc.

And by refusing to recognise the evil that is part of every human, we point to others instead as evil. He invokes the example of the atrocities committed by Europeans against their colonial subjects, which ‘quickly and conveniently sink into a sea of forgetfulness, and that state of chronic woolly-mindedness returns which we describe as “normality.” In shocking contrast to this is the fact that nothing has finally disappeared and nothing has been made good. The evil, the guilt, the profound unease of conscience, the obscure misgiving are there before our eyes, if only we would see. Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature; therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear unaltered and indelibly within me the capacity and the inclination to do them again at any time …. None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow. Whether the crime lies many generations back or happens today, it remains the symptom of a disposition that is always and everywhere present — and one would therefore do well to possess some “imagination in evil,” for only the fool can permanently neglect the conditions of his own nature. In fact, this negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil. Harmlessness and naivete are as little helpful as it would be for a cholera patient and those in his vicinity to remain unconscious of the contagiousness of the disease. On the contrary, they lead to projection of the unrecognised evil into the “other.” This strengthens the opponent’s position in the most effective way, because the projection carries the fear which we involuntarily and secretly feel for our own evil over to the other side and considerably increases the formidableness of his threat.’

A very long quote, I know, but I just loved this whole passage. I think it has very obvious parallels today with, for example, the ‘war on terror’ and its unequivocal dualism. They are evil and we are absolutely innocent, and so we can do anything, including torture and killing civilians, to make sure that our good prevails over their evil. The ‘harmlessness and naivete’ reminded me a lot of white British people, who like to believe that they are as pure as the driven snow because they have never personally oppressed anyone. They don’t accept any responsibility for what they are part of, and are happy for anything to be done to the evil “other” as long as there is no blood on their own hands.

Of course there are no easy answers in the book about how to discover the undiscovered self: Jung’s whole point is that we should get away from great generalisations and theories, and view the individual as, well, an individual. But there are some wonderful lessons, and the book is well written.
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LibraryThing member 8982874
POINTS OF INTEREST
Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. Chimerical ideas, sustained by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there; they express all those motives and resentment which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are, therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection precisely because the so-called normal person possesses only a limited degree of self-knowledge.

Most people confuse self-knowledge with knowledge of their conscious ego-personalities. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. There can be no self-knowledge based on theoretical assumptions (which are necessarily statistical; ideal averages), for the object of this knowledge is an individual – a relative exception and an irregular phenomenon.

Man is an enigma to himself. But why should we suppose that man is the only living creature deprived of specific instincts, or that his psyche is devoid of all traces of evolution; it is easy to succumb to the erroneous idea that the psyche is a tabula rasa, completely empty at birth, and it later contains what it has learnt by individual experience.

A sign is always less than the thing it points to. A term or image is symbolic when it means more than it denotes or expresses. It has a wider “unconscious” aspect – an aspect that can never be precisely defined or fully explained. This peculiarity is due to the fact that, in exploring the symbol, the mind is finally led toward ideas of a transcendent nature, where our reason must capitulate. Every conscious act or event has an unconscious aspect, just as every sense-perception has subliminal aspect. One cannot invent symbols; wherever they occur, they have not been devised by conscious intention and willful selection, because if such a procedure had been used, they would have been nothing but signs and abbreviations of conscious thought. Symbols occur to us spontaneously, as one can see in our dreams, which are not invented but which happen to us. They are not immediately understandable, they need careful analysis by means of association – but not free association, which always leads back to emotional thoughts or complexes that are unconsciously captivating our mind.

Most dreams are individual and atypical. The more our rational consciousness is influenced by prejudices, fantasies, infantile wishes, and the lure of external objects, the more the already existing gap will widen out into a neurotic dissociation and lead to an artificial life far removed from healthy instincts, nature, and truth. Dreams try to re-establish the equilibrium by restoring the images and emotions that express the state of the unconscious. Once could even say that they interpretation of dreams enriches consciousness to such an extent that it relearns the forgotten language of the instincts. Some elements in dreams cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life, but seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited patterns of the human mind known as “archaic remnants” (Frued) or “archetypes” (Jung).
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
This is a summary of the human condition. Individuals, the dangers of capitalism and totalitarianism, and the role of personal beliefs and faith. All there.
LibraryThing member shannonkearns
eh. parts were interesting but it took a while to get to those parts.
LibraryThing member csweder
Once I got past the first three or so chapters (discussing, of all things the Cold War?) Jung got into his beliefs about the self and how we can understand ourself and what it means to truly know yourself. That stuff I dig.

Go Jung!
LibraryThing member RonManners
"In this challenging and timely book, a renowned
modern psychiatrist pleads that we abandon
the concept of the organization man which leads to
the tyranny that blankets much of the world
today. Emphatically and convincingly, he affirms that
this can only be done by exploring and bringing
to light the true nature of the individual human being—
'the undiscovered self" . . . the real man as
opposed to the statistical man.
Dr. Jung offers no easy solutions to the terrible crisis in
world affairs. Instead he declares that the
alternative to world annihilation depends, not upon
mass movements for good, nor on idealistic
pleas for the prevalence of reason, but rather upon a
recognition of the existence of good and evil in
every individual and a true understanding
of the inner self.
"A passionate plea for individual integrity:"
—NewYork Times Book Review
Taken from the Back Cover.
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LibraryThing member gottfried_leibniz
Jung says, people have lost their self (individuality). We ought to encourage people to discover this unconscious-self. He is terrified by mass ideology forced upon a society, given the fact that he wrote this during the period of Nazism, Communism.

The masses, society has forced us to lose our own identity. As I kept reading the book, I thought of celebrities, politicians who created a false image, they hide their real self but show off an abstract ideal, which doesn't exist. I think, Pornography creates an ideal image of women, who do not exist in real life.

Jung says, Self-knowledge helps us to know get closer to our real self, although we can never truly understand ourselves. He criticizes institutionalised Christianity as it is similar to a Government forcing an abstract.
Overall, I am intrigued to think more on Psychology.

Have a great read

… (more)
LibraryThing member stilton
While reading him, I swing wildly between thinking that Jung is very sensible and good and right, and thinking that he's a dick. The trouble, I think, is that after you've been reading Freud, coming to Jung is at first refreshing. He seems to apply Freud's ideas in a way that is more relevant to everyday life, that relates more to the experience of existence that we actually have, rather than just using them to build a system. Freud tends to grab hold of a theory and run with it to its ridiculous conclusion. He gets on his little horse and rides it blinkered to the finish line. And you wonder, well, shouldn't you try using the height advantage of being on a horse to just look around for any new possibilities you can see? Jung does this - he sits on his horse and has a good look around. This is very refreshing. But after a while, you begin to miss the big ideas, you miss Freud's crazy ambition, the striving for a system that explains everything, you want to scream at Jung: you're on a horse. Are you just going to sit there on it? You might as well have brought a fucking stepladder. Then he says something about parapsychology and you throw the book at the wall.… (more)
LibraryThing member petralex
a brilliant and searching inquiry into the dilemma of the individual in today's society by one of theworld's greatest psychiatrists
LibraryThing member gottfried_leibniz
Jung says, people have lost their self (individuality). We ought to encourage people to discover this unconscious-self. He is terrified by mass ideology forced upon a society, given the fact that he wrote this during the period of Nazism, Communism.

The masses, society has forced us to lose our own identity. As I kept reading the book, I thought of celebrities, politicians who created a false image, they hide their real self but show off an abstract ideal, which doesn't exist. I think, Pornography creates an ideal image of women, who do not exist in real life.

Jung says, Self-knowledge helps us to know get closer to our real self, although we can never truly understand ourselves. He criticizes institutionalised Christianity as it is similar to a Government forcing an abstract.
Overall, I am intrigued to think more on Psychology.

Have a great read

… (more)
LibraryThing member csweder
Once I got past the first three or so chapters (discussing, of all things the Cold War?) Jung got into his beliefs about the self and how we can understand ourself and what it means to truly know yourself. That stuff I dig.

Go Jung!
LibraryThing member Princesca
very short book and not very deep reasoning. I have to say I found actually a few mistakes in Jung's thoughts such as when he says that animals can't feel or learn...that' obviously wrong but this is only a small example. I expected much more from him.

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