Psychology Essay Example


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The path-breaking works by Zigmund Freud and Carl Jung early in the twentieth century importantly shaped, not only the developmental trajectory of the modern branches of medicine, psychiatry in particular, but also had a major impact on many facets of the art and culture we have today. It is disputable whether the authors themselves would have agreed with this assertion, particularly in light of Jung’s approach, whereby culture is not so much affected as it is revealed [Bennet, 1966: 91]. One point we can stress with certainty is that the two great fathers, or systematizers, of the novel branches of science have contributed a lot to our collective understanding, as well as that of each other. The latter aspect of their enormous mutual impact, whether collaborative or antagonistic, has itself appeared at least as controversial as their alternative conceptual systems to all subsequent generations of scientists and biography students. We will attempt a discussion of some of the better-pronounced facets of their work, and elaborate on interpretation and compatibility issues.
The seven-year period of their “standing on each other’s shoulders” began in 1907, when Jung became interested in studies of schizophrenia and related topics of psychiatric and mental disorder.

By that time, Jung was reputable for his rare intellectual caliber, keen intuition, and utmost originality. That year marked the beginning of Freud’s post-Viennese period when, at the age of fifty-one, he entered a stage of theoretic maturity and had in fact been undertaking a major systematization of his theorizing to that point [Glover, 1950: 22-23]. Among some of the better-known constructs that imprinted his name in the literature was his libidinal approach to the study of neurotic phenomena among adults to be traced to the cumulative psychic traumas attributable to possible sexual abuse back in their childhood. This “seduction theory,” or “neurotica” [Alexander, 1966: 81-89] drew upon the basic construct whereby libido was to be defined as a set of erotic and aggressive drives as well as defensive impulses against these. One of the merits of his approach was that it focused on the structure of determinants as well as the mechanisms, or ways in which that transformation was maintained to take place. Despite his fame and recognition as a major thinker of the time, Freud was incessantly being haunted by criticism on a number of accounts. Aspects pertaining to child sexuality, inherent parental perversion, and the frequency of its incidence were topics as novel as they probably appeared politically and culturally uncomfortable.

He would comment many a time that he was too tired of his solitude, personal and intellectual alike [Schultz, 1990: 54]. Even his friends failed to show enough appreciation for and understanding of his insights which were, paradoxically, elegant and awkward to accept at the same time. The young and unusually promising Jung was quick to respond, with all his passionate integrity and zest, by sending Freud a letter in which he condemned the unscrupulous criticisms by the mediocre pseudo experts lacking the nerve to criticize openly (minding their careers), and failing to suggest alternatives which could compete on par with what Freud’s genius had introduced [Schultz, 1990: 62-65].

Freud was deeply touched. For one, this revealed attitude seemed to be a way out of the limbo of his solitude. For another, he certainly was flattered and hopeful about the possibility of collaborating with, and mentoring, a brilliant disciple that Jung was. Indeed, Freud had been deeply frustrated with the fact he had not really had any outstanding students capable of following in his footsteps or even challenging him in constructive ways. It remains a possibility that he in fact viewed his Vienna period students and colleagues as the potential core of mediocre critics whose disloyalty was but a natural attachment to their creative insolvency.

In the aftermath, however, Jung would comment that he never really was satisfied with the dogmatic stance his mentor had to offer [Bennet, 1966: 72]. Indeed, genuine elegance rests with a theory that is at least potentially testable, refutable, and open to the extension of the factual sample as well as to competing alternatives. Dogma is a form of irrefutability-and indeed, Freud’s theories do remain difficult to test, and to augment for that matter [Glover, 1950: 189-192]. Dogma might itself also be a form of intellectual limitedness, in which light its should come of little surprise that Jung might perceive Freud’s imperative stance (his ‘myopic’ genius) a dubious alternative to mediocre criticism largely missing the point. Primarily, Jung opposed Freud’s overemphasis on sexuality as the dimension underlying personality development and the essence of the unconscious. [Alexander, 1966: 67-81] Jung basically did support the construct, but their main disagreement seemed to be about weights or significance they each ascribed to the individual factors.

Jung in fact had a theory of his own, pertaining to the so-called “collective unconscious.” [Bennet, 1966: 76-82] According to that view, individual as well as macro level developments, such as culture and ethics, have to do with the collective property component that each individual has and acts in accordance with. Therefore, each individual in his choices acts as a conduit or a medium, rather than is driven by his private micro motives. In that light, he even tended to be less critical of Hitler, in whom he viewed but a medium revealing the Nordic spirit (collective unconscious), rather than shaping the nation’s vision. [Bennet, 1966: 87]

Freud was much too pessimistic on the account of the “collective unconscious.” Of course, he knew very well about Jung’s obsession with the occult and archetypal elements supposedly underlying the formation of the unconscious. Interestingly, his own early dogmatic stance with respect to “seduction theory” may well have been driven by tactic reasons more than it was by genuine ideological conviction. In particular, he revealed it once to Jung that the construct must be made a dogma if only to erect a wall against the occult garbage flooding the analysis. [Schultz, 1990: 84] (The unavoidable conflict is beginning to show.) As far as the “collective unconscious” was concerned, Freud seemed to downplay this notion’s role. To him, introducing the collective unconscious would be of questionable profit, as the unconscious was a universal property and hence collective for that matter. In my opinion, the conflict here is rather subtle, and pertains to what can be called the top-down versus bottom-up approaches as espoused by Jung and Freud, respectively. Top-down refers to the hypothesis that each element is but a conduit (or a replica) of a higher-level property. Bottom-up might focus on the exact same nature of the phenomenon, yet maintain that it is an inherently micro-level property only trivially translating on all higher levels.

Freud later on rethought his “neurotica” in major ways, after having recognized its weaknesses. Those ‘weaknesses,’ as he perceived them, might not all be conceptual; indeed, some pertained to the de-facto [lack of] acceptance and success (which would seem low and volatile). He observed, in particular, that neurotic disorder was actually a more frequent phenomenon, too frequent in fact to be fully accounted for by perversion issues. On the one hand, only cumulative instances of sexual traumas could translate into a major psychotic development. On the other hand, perversion in family wasn’t commonplace. [Alexander, 1966: 88] No wonder, then, that Jung alienated himself early on from all such ‘extremist’ approaches placing too much weight on a single dimension.

When it comes to mutual impact, it may have been mixed. For one, productive collaboration clearly was characteristic of their early work in the same field, marking the emerging of their theories. For another, when their theories were subjected to a major systematization and refining, the big picture might well have changed for both. Finally, even their sharp argument in subsequent years probably acted to contribute to the discipline’s development in better ways than full consent possibly could. Somehow, then, each theory focuses on the role of symbols and decoding thereof, whether pertaining to dreams, or hypnosis, or word associations, or mythology. Jung’s construct might work better on a level of macro developments and universal symbols, while Freud’s seems more insightful when it comes to private choices, development, and reactions. The two certainly focus on somewhat different aspects or levels, and could be viewed as largely complementary on that account. However, insofar as Jung’s was a major generalization and/or a rethinking (refining) of the earlier model, the compatibility reduces to the somewhat asymmetric relationship between the general and the special theories, the latter somehow being part yet not quite capturing the former.

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