(Note: The following blog continues the series begun in October 2012, on the evolving topic, "Suffering, Consolation, and Dreams at Life's Extremities," to be completed and revised in late 2013.)
As I was saying in my last post, we experience some things that simply do not fit into our everyday expectations. I gave such an example of a couple and their daughter who, while on vacation at a beach resort, saw two old friends who in fact were not present at the time but who drove up to the resort the next day and "just happened" to see the first couple and daughter walking out on an ocean pier. All five of these people testify to this pre-cognitive vision.
Such events take place and cannot be accounted for with our present-day operative scientific paradigms. When we tell others of these unusual happenings, they may listen curiously, skeptically, or dismissively. But in any case, the accounts most often are quickly forgotten or -- at best -- placed in the mental "containers" that we store in our minds to hold "stuff" that we have no use for but which someday may be retrieved and examined again.
You can understand why we do this. We already probably feel overloaded with the ten thousand things that must be attended to if we are to keep up with the onrush of demands propelled by the stress of conditions in our more-and-more demanding worlds.
It is as if we live under a kind of "dome," reminiscent of the one described by Stephen King in his novel that later became a TV series, "Under the Dome." In that book and TV drama, an entire town is trapped under a mysterious dome that controls entering and leaving. Psychologically the drama works because we know on some deep level what it is like to be trapped in the many "domes" that can descend upon us. Think about those times and places you have felt trapped with no way out, short of death: family gatherings, religious services, school classes, dates, marriages that became toxic, upcoming obligations you loathed or feared.
I could go on, but you have your own list of those dome-like moments in your life that felt deadly, unending, and inescapable. But note that these experiences are not limited to personal situations. Think about the larger domes under which whole societies are trapped. Sometimes the entrapment is because of ignorance or superstition. For example, consider what it would have been like to have contracted Hansen's disease, known as leprosy. You would be told that your God gave you the disease because of some sin you committed, and you must be expelled from human community, forced to wear a bell so that you would be heard and avoided by others when you approached, cautioned always to stand downwind from others, etc. The "dome" was a medieval sanction that equated disease with sin.
I offer this example of leprosy as a "dome," repelling as it may be, to emphasize the power of belief to influence the way people understand life. Sometimes the beliefs are benign, but sometimes they take possession of us in quite destructive ways. Consider, for example, the following:
- the systematic killing of the Jews under Hitler's Naziism that portrayed them as inferior and a hindrance for the development of an ideal master race;
- the Jim Crowe laws in the southern United States that depicted people of color as inferior and little better than animals;
- the Salem witch trials that, as happened in other periods of European history, projected evil upon women.
In these destructive ideologies, masses of people have been killed, tortured, and/or exiled. But think also of the beliefs that have through ignorance controlled the pathway of human endeavors. For example:
- The discovery of the Americas was impeded by the European intelligensia who believed the boundaries of civilization to be marked by the abyss of a dreaded domain of incomprehensible existence and possibly guarded by other-worldy creatures. (At the edge of their maps, they wrote "There Be Dragons"!);
- The nature of infectious diseases was attributed to many would-be origins until Louis Pasteur and others discovered the existence and nature of pathogens that spread disease, one of the most significant findings in medical research that did not occur until the middle of the nineteenth century;
- The political furor over the nature of homosexuality that presently hangs on a very conservative political and religious fallacy which ignores the medical understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation of biological origin.
We could go on and bring to mind many instances -- ancient and modern -- where whole groups of people have been entrapped within misinformation, an ideology, a dogma, a tenant of "faith" within some controlling body of individuals deemed to be authoritative. And that brings me back to my earlier story about the "seeing" of the couple not present. The "dome" of present-day belief, a materialist world-view, either believes the incident never really occurred, or the account is put aside as not fitting within any available explanation.
However, I wonder if this dismissive world-view is not itself about to fall into question. The works of Charles Tart (The End of Materialism) and John Haule (Jung in the 21st Century, 2 volumes) move in this direction of questioning the suppositions of the dome that have defined our boundaries of reality. Those boundaries served us well by sharpening our focus so that we could conduct our experiments under the dome of a very specific scientific methodology: investigate a question, gather data, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, and review the results. Again, my argument is not with science per se.
To put it most simply, the process of escaping our suppositions may come down to the phenomenon of the questions that we ask, and this depends upon what we allow ourselves to see. In other words, we "see" what we expect to see. For example, under deep hypnosis, a person may be told that he will not be able upon awakening to see a person in the same room, a person who in fact is next to the one being hypnotized. Then, when awakened, he does not "see" the individual next to him. This is the nature of the mind to block out what it needs to block out.
This sounds a lot like a conversion disorder, a psychopathological condition that may manifest as blindness. However, the cause of blindness within the hysteria of a conversion disorder is due to a physical stress that manifests in a psychological state. In my example of hypnosis above, however, the condition is not one of stress but of
suggestion. The suggestion predisposes one to "not see."
I am drawing upon that example to suggest that the domes we live under predispose us to not see certain things, to not hear, not experience, not believe, not be aware. The result is that we become blind when it comes to considering new data.
This brings me to the questions raised by Tart and Haule. How has materialism so predisposed us that we cannot see the realities unfolding within and among us? The field of parapsychology is a good example of this. Consider, for example, the instances of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, pre-cognitive dreams, and psychokinesis that have been investigated and documented by many who take psychic research seriously. This research is most convincing when it is examined under the lens of professionals in the field of parapsychology, although it is worth noting that in past recent decades even the federal government has supported research in the field of parapsychology for the purpose of national security.
But one of the more interesting incidents in the history of parapsychology occurred with Dr. Freud himself. Throughout the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, there had been tension over Jung's accounts of visions, pre-cognitive dreams, and synchronistic occurrence of events, as well as Jung's interest in mythology as a portal for understanding and exploring the symbols that appear in all people everywhere. Freud admonished Jung as a father would speak to his son and warned him about his interest in what today we would call parapsychology. Freud used the terms "occult," "spook-complex" and "mysticism" in relation to Jung's interests. In a letter to Jung dated May 12, 1911, Freud warns Jung:
... I know that your deepest inclinations are impelling you toward
a study of the occult, and do not doubt that you return home with
a rich cargo. There is no stopping that, and it is always right for a
person to follow the biddings of his own impulses. ... Only don't
stay too long away from us in those lush tropical colonies; it is
necessary to govern at home... .
Freud was attempting to put a fence around his newly formed school of psychology, psychoanalysis, a fence that would serve as a "dome," to continue with the metaphor I used earlier. He in fact was operating out of the philosophical doctrine of positivism, a strong current of thought in the nineteenth century that may be defined as "a doctrine contending that sense perceptions are the only admissible basis of human thought and precise thought." (The American Heritage Dictionary) And what was at the center of Freud's theory that he was attempting to protect? It was his conviction of the central role of sexuality, repressed or otherwise, a psychosexuality that shapes individual lives and cultures. Jung reports that at his meeting with Freud in Venice, 1910, Freud urged Jung never to abandon the sexual theory:
My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon the sexual theory.
This is the most essential thing of all. You see, we must make a
dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark. ... Against the black tide of
mud... of occultism. (MDR, p. l150)
And, of course, so much of life is indeed shaped by sexuality. But it is only one of other influences that guide human development and give meaning to our existence. Even Freud actually came to allow for other forces at work in the human psyche, forces knocking on the doors of our perception with compelling, fascinating intrigue. One of these phenomena that Freud previously had labeled "occult" is telepathy.
Telepathy, along with other psychic phenomena that could not be explained by positivism, drew sharp interest in a number of Freud's psychoanalytic colleagues, principally C.G.Jung and Sandor Ferenzi. Ferenzi appears to have been most influential and even conducted "experiments with thought-transference" (Jones, Vol. 3, p. 393) involving Freud and his daughter, Anna, in Venice. The results of those experiments impressed Freud enough that he called them "remarkably good," and concluded, "The matter is becoming urgent for us," meaning that the psychoanalytic community would need to deal with these psychic occurrences in some more intentional way. (Jones, Vol. 3, p. 393)
So here was Freud, slipping from under the dome of his earlier defined psychoanalytic dogma of sexuality to allow for something more to be at work in mysterious ways within the lives of individuals and the world as a whole. Not everyone received this development in a positive way. Ernest Jones, a psychoanalyst in England, friend, biographer and early defender of Freud, expressed his deepest reluctance to Freud, fearing his venture into psychic research would detract from the main work of psychoanalysis. But Freud would not relent. This is how Jones describes his personal confrontation with Freud on the matter of the so-called occult:
In the years before the Great War, I had several talks with
Freud on occultism and kindred topics. He was fond,
especially after midnight, of regaling me with strange or
uncanny experiences with patients, characteristically about
misfortunes or deaths supervening many years after a wish
or prediction. He had a particular relish for such stories and
was evidently impressed by their more mysterious aspects.
When I would protest at some of the taller stories, Freud was
wont to reply with his favorite quotation: "There are more
things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your
philosophy." Some of the incidents sounded like mere co-
incidences, others like the obscure workings of unconscious
motives. When they were concerned with clairvoyant visions
from departed spirits, I ventured to reprove him for his
inclinations to accept occult beliefs on flimsy evidence. His
reply was, "I don't like it myself, but there is some truth in
it," both sides of his nature coming to expression in a short
sentence. I then asked him where such beliefs could halt: if
one could believe in mental processes floating in the air, one
could go on to a belief in angels. He closed the discussion at
this point (about three in the morning!) with the remark:
"Quite so, even der liebe Gott." (Jones, Vol. 3, p. 381)
Yes, at the very end and in Freud's heart of hearts, he recognized the truth that each of us knows on the deepest level: there are indeed more things in this world than our philosophies allow for. Once we pass from beneath the stultifying dome of our lives, we catch glimpses of other worlds and beings and meanings. What is maybe most remarkable is the fact that this should not surprise us. It should not be such a strange experience at all because such adventures take place each night in our dreams.
In our dreams .... To be continued next time.
Haule, J.R. (2011). Jung in the 21st Century (2 Vols.). London and NewYork: Routledge.
Jones, E. (1957). The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (3 Vols.).NewYork: Basic Books,Inc.
Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. (A.Jaffe, Recorder and Ed.; R.and C.
Winston, Trans.). NewYork: Vintage Books.
Tart, C.T. (2009). The End of Materialism. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.