Is Jung as full of it as Freud?
March 5, 2021 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Are there any studies that actual try to test for universal archetypes out the collective unconscious? Especially any that work across cultural lines with cultures that have not been heavily impacted by the west?

Whenever I see anything Jungian, I immediately put it in the same mental box as Freudian stuff, that is interesting in a literary critical sense and perhaps informing writing, but with no basis in reality.

I realize that I was basing this in the time of his writings and the rigor (well, lack there of) applied to psychology then combined with his being a student of Freud. I did a quick google search on collective unconscious/jungian archetypes and found papers that are either about using it in therapy published in Jungian journals or using it in a critical sense to examine writings. Wikipedia tells me it encompasses all humans and therefore for some reason cannot be studied and that Jung's archetypes are so fuzzy that they might as well be horoscopes.

So, is there any actual science of the mind there, or can I go back to dismissing this except in the broadest terms (most humans, due to having a given makeup of sensory organs, living in a patriarchy, and having things like parents, have somewhat similar formative experiences) like I do for Freudianism and the strong Sappir-Waldorf hypothesis?

(Also, I know that's a falsifiability issue in psychology, so I'll take things with a grain of salt.)

(Question inspired by the MBTI post on the blue.)
posted by Hactar to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a psychometrician, but work with them. My understanding is that the only meaningful assessment of this "type" is CliftonStrengths. However, I don't know if its validity and reliability is USian culture only or crosscultural.
posted by oceano at 8:37 AM on March 5

From my background in behavioral sciences (that don't really have that falsifiability problem) - all psychology outside of behaviorism is no different than Freud.

Humans love putting things in groups. From MBTI to horoscopes, it's something we've always done. When evaluating these things, there are a number of tests, like will it stay true over time, can you replicate the results.

I've never seen a meaningful grouping of humans based on how they think that isn't more useful than using their income level or education. People make strong arguments about humans being extroverted or introverted, but lately the popular discourse has been about how that changes based on the situation.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:13 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if it directly answers your question, but I found this article to be informative with regard to Jung's theories: "Carl Jung: The Madame Blavatsky of Psychotherapy". Here's an excerpt:
Jung was a preternaturally unclear writer and thinker: he would never say anything clearly when obfuscation would do. Whether this was from lack of talent or an unconscious appreciation that clarity led to the possibility of contradiction and even refutation, no one can say, but the precise nature of archetypes, their ontological status as it were, has remained unclear ever since. [...] But Jung’s theorizing was always like an inverted pyramid: a mountain of speculation resting on a pin-prick of fact.
To read Jung is to enter a world more of connotation than of denotation, of meanings hinted at rather than expressed forthrightly. To extract a definite opinion from Jung is like trying to catch an eel with soapy hands, or trap steam with a butterfly net. His esoteric erudition is formidable: it is difficult to refute a man who will not say what he means, but backs whatever he means up with a plethora of references to fourteenth-century texts.
posted by JD Sockinger at 10:01 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Basically, Jung is full of it, yeah. It doesn't mean anthropologists haven't tried interpreting what people tell them in Jungian terms, but here's a pretty good essay about how it more often reveals something about the anthropologist: Erik Linstrum (Aeon, Dec. 2017), "The Empire Dreamt Back." If you read their stuff even just a little against the grain, you wind up with a pretty different picture of what's going on. For example, that essay is about C.G. Seligman, and in a Festschrift devoted to Seligman, the similarly famous anthropologist Raymond Firth writes about "The Meaning of Dreams in Tikopia," ostensibly supporting his views. But read closely, what you see isn't anything like universal meanings in dreams but rather widespread questions about their interpretability and wishes to find something in them that either don't amount to much or reveal pretty context-specific ways of going about it. Myths/stories are probably the same: you can guess that certain motifs will come up, for maybe universal pragmatic reasons, e.g. some things are pretty scary or, like, contrasts and opposition tend to give things meaning; but a catalog of symbols and tropes and whatnot will remain basically that--not a key to understanding but just an inventory.

Side note: my feeling when talking about people like Raymond Firth or for that matter Isabel Briggs Myers is we ought to at least mention their racism, e.g. in Firth's Human Types or Briggs Myers's novel, Give Me Death, so that we can keep that in view and maybe conclude we've inherited a lot of questions that really just ought to be reset and to the extent possible rethought from the ground up, non-defensively.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:39 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The view from cultural anthropology, where Jung was briefly influential long ago, is yes, Jung is completely full of racist bullshit.

I am an anthropologist. But IANYA.

Broader debates about the knowability of what we experience as subjectivity and inner life and selfhood vs. “behaviorist” theories that “black box” all such “subjective” phenomena ... is a complicated intellectual historical debate.

In my view, specifically as a linguistic anthropologist and following Chomsky, there are indeed intersubjectively confirmable, empirical ways to calibrate affective and subjective states and perceptions and intuitions. Because we have the ability to abstract them via a common public behavioral code, as we are doing right here.

But that’s another can of worms. I can tell you that mentioning Jung positively in the application essay for a PhD program in anthropology almost anywhere in the world and for decades now would cost you your chance of admission. I exaggerate only slightly. His naive universalism is both ideologically and historically reflective of a racist view of non-western, oral, and indigenous societies and cultures, as much cultural universalism tends to be. Jung’s market now is amongst New Age thinkers, who cling to those old views that the minds of some of our fellow contemporary humans are closer to a primordial or “primitive” condition of Mind than ours are, for all sorts of values of “ours.”

Freud still has much more purchase in my world of social thought. Yeah the family drama stuff was all sexist (and racist and classist) bullshit, but the argument that individual neuroses are the product of unresolved contradictions in society is broadly still current, and the specific diagnosis of capitalist modernity as a condition of constantly deferred gratification and concomitant anxiety, while not original to Freud (or Weber or Durkheim or Marx), has held up remarkably well in work by Foucault, Deleuze, Althusser, and others.
posted by spitbull at 10:52 AM on March 5 [13 favorites]

I'm more sympathetic to Jung than most people, and I think he's completely wrong about collective unconscious, except in a vague metaphoric view. Jung and Freud both viewed themselves as scientists, but both of their scientific reasonings are pretty flawed. I view them both as philosophers with interesting but imperfect insights and interpretations.
posted by ovvl at 12:19 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]

FWIW I'd second that Jung isn't a source for any contemporary anthropologists of note and hasn't been for decades--though only two of them, because I knew at least one notable anthropologist privately flirting with Jung in the 90s-00s in spite of earlier work that pointed in other directions. It's kind of an embarrassing story, really, which is just further evidence it's not a thing anymore. So in my earlier comment, I've made the mistake of casting anthropologists themselves into a sort of 'ethnographic present' without making clear it's a historical phenomenon.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:33 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me to add that you can see something of a Jungian trace or influence in the emergent currency of theories of historical collective cultural traumas (escpially genocides) as an “epigenetic” intergenerational inheritance. I personally consider those lines of thinking problematic (and unnecessary if you view “culture” as embodied as well as cognitively located, something we can also see on Freudian thought for sure).
posted by spitbull at 1:26 PM on March 5

Tangential - I'm not going to mount a defence of Freudian psychoanalysis here, given that field's huge aversion to research and validation, but worth it to note that later therapists and researchers have taken some of the concepts (projection, transference etc.) to develop theories and treatments that are more evidence-based/being validated in trials e.g. attachment theory, mentalization-based therapy, brief psychodynamic therapy etc. (Disclaimer: I trained as a clinical psychologist at University College London where a lot of the research into psychodynamic therapy is being conducted.)

Jung, however, never came up in training. My impression is that Jungian theory is even less evidence-based than Freud.
posted by monocot at 3:14 PM on March 5

Best answer: In the vein of my comment in the MBTI post, Jordan Peterson is a big fan of Jung. Make of that what you will. (Linked article has some interesting background on Jung; though I am not anywhere near an expert in this area, so can't assess how complete or accurate a portrait it paints.)
posted by eviemath at 6:58 AM on March 6

As far as I know, the credentialing process for Jungian analysts is pretty rigorous, and they have to do some long period of academia first? So they appear to be legitimately and sincerely applying what they see as an an important body of knowledge to the practice of psychotherapy. Of course that leaves your question unanswered, as to the basis in actual mental life for the whole apparatus of theory.

The question of truth aside, Is it effective, considered along both other forms of psychotherapy and also other forms of therapy? I don't really know, and I suspect it's a lot harder to ask that question in a systematic way than you'd first hope for. I'm sure there are patients who are very satisfied with it. I can see how working within the whole story connecting your dismal typical life problems to this great narrative of myth could be really appealing.

Jung and Freud both viewed themselves as scientists, but both of their scientific reasonings are pretty flawed. I view them both as philosophers with interesting but imperfect insights and interpretations.

I always wonder how to take them on this, especially as German speakers. They might have been saying they did Wissenschaft, which can have a broader meaning than empirical science of nature, in German. But 'science' is how it is normally translated. This can be jarring, as in when you read in English Hegel, with his Science of the stages of Spirit coming to know itself.. He is clearly not using the word to mean, you know, superconductor research. Or perhaps they were not intending these philosophical connotations, but had in mind comparison to the biology and medicine of the time. Or maybe they were just kind of daft on this point.
posted by thelonius at 8:27 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]

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