Archetypes at War & Play: Reflections on the Noll-Jung Controversy in the Light of Science, Typology, and Cultural Bias

by Maureen B. Roberts, PhD

"Archetypal statements are based upon instinctive preconditions and have nothing to do with reason; they are neither rationally grounded nor can they be banished by rational arguments." ~ C. G. Jung.


Although I'm by nature a passionate soul, my reaction to Richard Noll's fervent attempts to denounce the heretic Jung has been neither angry nor overly concerned. Truth has a way of coming out in time, n'est ce pas? My response, as a semi-sane shaman and alchemical androgyne, is more in the nature of a shrug and wryly amused smile, plus a cat-like curiosity as to what archetypes and unresolved personal issues are at work in Noll's desperate attempts to forge, as did Freud with uncannily similar religious fervour, an 'unshakable bulwark' against the black, muddy tide of Jung and his peculiar brand of occultism.

As an intuitive introvert, my business is imagination, vision, creative madness, and communing constantly with the inner figures and landscapes of the unconscious, so I leave more factually detailed debate in the capable hands of those who have a more highly developed sensation function, namely certain esteemed colleagues who are better informed as to the details of Noll's books and the relevant historical facts of Jung's remarkable life. Noll's obsession, I venture to suggest, is propelled overall by an irrational fear of the unconscious, not by the rare kind of selfless, courageous and impassioned quest for truth that so inspired and informed the distinguished and heart-centred life and work of Jung.

What, then, do I care for Noll's devious smokescreen of rational arguments against the existence of the collective unconscious, or for the sanitized attempts by his fellow reductionists to dissect, define, prove the existence of, or analyze archetypes? One may as well try to capture lightning, bottle the ocean, or channel the eruptions of a volcano through a plastic straw. I have lived through a two-year borderline psychosis during which it was all I could do to stay alive and vaguely afloat amidst a swirling abyss of archetypes, the awesome power of which I fell into and had to contend with, alone, for two years. Many of the chronic sufferers of schizophrenia I have worked with could tell similar tales - if their swamped egos were more intact and so acted as damming interfaces between them and the archetypes that so relentlessly assail them.

In a nutshell, for those who know (as 'gnosis'), no proof is necessary; experience speaks more loudly, subtly, convincingly and eloquently than cold logic. For those who seek belief through logic or objective analysis (as poor substitutes for gnosis), no proof, alas, is possible, hence Jung's two provocative remarks that religion is a defence against a religious experience, and that one understands nothing psychologically unless one has experienced it. So although I admire and endorse the heart-felt annoyance (at one) and loyalty (to another) behind recent spirited attempts to defend Jung against Noll's debunkings, my gut feeling is that it's ultimately a waste of time trying to tackle Noll head-on, hence on his terms, since to do so is merely adding sticks to the logic-fuelled fire at which he continues to rub his hands with secret glee. Noll has the Jungians dancing to his tune if he can provoke them into arguing point-by-point defensively, instead of simply undermining, with one fell swoop, the validity of his unstated assumptions and unquestioned philosophical bias.

To play the game by Noll's rules - patriarchal hubris, cerebral ping-pong, vague accusations, distortion of historical facts, etc. - is merely playing into his hands, since he is, I suspect, a man terrified of those repressed Dionysian forces which scorn detached analysis and intellectual arrogance; afraid, I therefore suggest, of the reality of his own unconscious which, it seems, he will do anything to keep at bay or rationalize out of the picture, thence, or so he perhaps hopes, out of existence altogether. This entire self-sustaining, insular process, which is more in the nature of a mouse-wheel than an uroboric cycle, works something like this: once one unquestioningly defers to the notion that Noll and his reductionist camp have 'science', or rational objectivity on their side, the game is over and Noll has already won the day, since 'science-as-cold objectivity' is still our presiding god and myth, hence the rule 'one person plus god makes a majority' comes into play. Defensive arguments citing personal validations of the efficacy of astrology, or the I Ching, or shamanic vision, or Tarot, or New Age therapies are similarly fuel for the Noll fire, since through circular reasoning Noll will simply claim that these approaches are 'unscientific', or unverifiable objectively, hence not worthy of consideration. The whole game, in other words, is played out according to rules which are never questioned, but which stubbornly persist as unstated assumptions that reflect the peculiar bias of Western patriarchal thinking.

Jung, of course, was shrewd enough to see through this sort of arrogant nonsense and so avoided the trap of privileging logic and objectivity over the reality if the psyche, and over the immense value of the irrational, the Dionysian, the inner, the natural, and the feminine. Jung's stance involved donning an old hat, or resurrected vision of the ancient World Soul, as a kind of mercurial jester-cap that indirectly poked fun at the overly serious senex presiding over Western intellectual coldness, resistance to change, poverty of imagination and soul, exile of the intuitive and feminine, and rejection of the opposing puer of new beginnings. All these gods, it goes without saying, have been at play and war since time immemorial.

Given that, as James Hillman has reminded us, the gods are all-pervasive in our actions and reactions, pathologies and polarities, imaginings, sunderings and presiding myths, which god, or gods, one might therefore ask, is/are busily fuelling Noll's own religious zeal? Which archetypes are goading him on invisibly from the wings of his staged drama of reasoned objectivity, personal detachment, and patronizing antagonism toward all that Jung stands for, which includes the intuited holism, or perennial philosophy of the unus mundus underlying archetypal phenomena and synchronicity?

As Jung stressed time and again, the archetype is a 'psychoid' phenomenon transcending the poles of objective and subjective, matter and spirit, hence it influences the psyche (including that of Noll) and psychology just as it influences other fields and sciences, as a pre-existent given. One does not objectively analyse an archetype; rather, when one through egoic hubris presumes that one can do so, one is under the influence of an archetype that gives precedence to objective analysis mode. Apollo, the now-fading dominant of the Western psyche, would be an apt example of this particular archetype's personalized form. Other archetypes, notably the Dionysian, promote as compensation the opposing tendencies of irrationality, creative madness, and feminine attunement to Nature's instinctive wildness; as Hillman remarks: "Although analysis has been Apollonic in theory, technique, and interpretation in terms of the ego and its life, again and again for many persons it was Dionysian in experience; a prolonged moistening, a life in the child, hysterical attempts at incarnation through symptoms, an erotic compulsion toward soul-making." (The Myth of Analysis, New York: HarperCollins, 1972, p.294). Since Western culture has privileged the Apollonian, it foregrounds the objective, rational and detached. However, when one is prepared to admit that in the broader context of the collective unconscious, Apollo is no more powerful or important than his fellow deities, the presumed superiority of Noll's angle collapses like a house of cards.

Interestingly, Noll adopts the familiar strutting Apollonian posture, designed to keep the Dionysian forces of the irrational, the feminine, and the unconscious at bay. But Dionysus, I'm glad to say, will not be restrained indefinitely, mad, androgynous ecstatic that s/he is, hence my intuition is that Noll has the option of several fates: eventual illness (through his violent repression of the personal and collective shadow), enantiodromia (a la St Paul; here Noll, through the irruption of the numinously unconscious opposite, suddenly becomes an equally fervent 'disciple' rather than persecutor of Jung), or, thirdly, Noll exits, in T. S. Eliot's words, 'not with a bang but a whimper'; his voice simply becomes a fading cry on the disruptive winds of change whose heralding breezes are already sending their first ripples through the collective psyche. I'm alluding here, of course, to the 'metamorphosis of the gods', or transformation of the God-image that Jung so often discussed and prophesied would accompany the transition from the waning Piscean age - dominated by patriarchy, hierarchy, the Logos of analysis, and spirit-matter dualism - to the incoming tide of Aquarius which, as Jung predicted, would be dominated by the feminine principle of Eros as the restored wholeness and androgyny of the God-image, and the capacity to relate holistically.

Against this huge collective shift in consciousness, which happens every 2,000 years or so in the vast astrological cycle of the Platonic Year, nothing can prevail; no rational arguments, paranoid fears, or senex-dominated bastions of respectability and beaurocracy - whether social, religious, medical, scientific, or educational - will, in the end, have any power to stop its advance. An egg has only two options; it must hatch, or go bad. It can't stay as an egg forever. Eros, originally hatched from the maternal Egg of Night, is bursting forth in a new incarnation from its shell. Noll and his intellectual kin are accordingly flogging a dying horse. In the end, I predict, the patriarchs and reductionists will either have to come quietly, or their fortress will be crumbled by force; not the force of aggressive violence, or analytical dissection, but through the relentless Tao of natural change, imaged as the mushroom which, though soft and quiet and comfortable amid darkness and death, is able without haste or pause to push its way through concrete.

Whether Noll likes it or not, our age is witnessing the gradual erosion of the privileging of the aggressive ego and its Apollonian failure to unite the opposites, both symptoms of the rule of cold analysis over organic wholes and over Dionysian, non-hierarchical webs of relatedness. For Dionysus is not dualistic, but rather ambivalent; male and female, dark and light, science and mysticism, analysis and synthesis, Logos and Eros, detachment ('ek-stasis') and engagement with life's convulsive dance of soul, all of these opposites forming poles of holistic continuums and archetypal light spectrums. And all these realities, this vast kaleidoscope of mythic drama, these agonies and ecstasies that embrace us in interiority and explode us into fragments dispersable throughout Nature and World; the poetic, the heart-rending, the union with the abyss of dark, oceanic matter, all that which imparts to life its imaginal complexity and richness is missing from the arid and Sun-parched landscape of Noll's monkishly intellectual desert; and Dr Noll assuredly feels desiccated in his soul and imagination because of it. He has my sympathy, not my anger.

My gut feeling, in summary, is that Noll is inadvertently sawing off the very branch he's sitting on and that eventually it will collapse into the dark pool of mud which he is so desperately trying to climb above. As Hillman notes, archetypal psychology considers all behaviours and all fantasy as having archetypal significance, thereby 'providing opportunity for discovering the Gods which shelter and provoke every event of the human soul.' (Myth of Analysis, p.298) In light of the unavoidable presence of the gods in all our attitudes and actions, I therefore suggest the following, perhaps more fruitful angle: instead of trying to contend defensively with the gadfly-ish Noll on his own home turf, why not instead turn the tables by assuming another (equally valid) starting premise - namely, the irony of Noll's own entanglement in the drama of the gods - and proceed from there? After all, if the debate stays fixed in Apollonian circular reasoning mode (on both sides), lacking the tension of archetypal opposites it will eventually run out of steam, or arrive at a stalemate.

Could Noll, for instance, be harbouring secret issues of abandonment, desertion, defection, nolle prosequi (if you'll excuse the pun)? As I say, my business is imagination, so I hope Dr Noll would pardon my momentary trespass into curiosity about his personal life. If there's a can of worms to be opened here, it's certainly not my place to do so, but one muses over the possibilities, nonetheless.

Enough about Noll himself. Recently, sensing a similar hidden shadow agenda, I smelt a rat on-board the jung-psyc discussion list, and so jumped what I considered to be a sinking ship. I share this provocative exchange because it relates to the entire Noll-Jung issue by placing it in the vital context of 'reductionism versus holism' and in relation to certain unspoken assumptions that are at work when those of the reductionist/Noll camp, through anything-but-rational attempts at a hoodwinking conjuror's trick, evoke that magical word 'science' in support of what is in reality a biased philosophical premise on their part.

As input to the discussion, I attempted in a cordial manner to present Jung's position, or at least part of it as I understood it, on 'science', since I felt that folk had a right to at least hear a 'case for the defence' and so hoped that a worthwhile debate might ensue. Here are some of my responses (to messages posted by Noll supporters) that the list moderators refused to post:

Western & Eastern Science (to jung-psyc, 1 October 1997):

On the subject of 'Jung and science', and looking for more scientific 'evidence' of archetypes, it's worth bearing in mind that 'science' is a neutral term that simply means 'knowledge'; hence one's approach to and assuptions about knowledge will determine one's view of the scope and limitations of science in the first place. As I see it, Jung's ideas, since he was never a slave to fashion, Western intellectual hubris, or philosophical prejudice, were certainly not formulated in the light of 'current consensus perspectives', if by this is meant reductionist science and its slavery to logical analysis, the causal paradigm, and detached objectivity.

(One list member had objected that 'there is no serious challenge to the assertion that Jung's scientific statements about archetypes are not compatible with contemporary standards. What is wrong with an effort to bring our approach to psychology up-to-date?')

My response (again censored):
Plenty. Look, there seems to be some sort of underlying or unspoken assumption here that we'd be doing Jung and Jungian psychology a favour if we attempt to put it under the microspcope, intellectualize it, clinicise it, objectify it, or otherwise make it and Jung more 'scientifically respectable', or in line with contemporary trends (which, as I've also suggested, are, if anything, moving in science away from the causal/reductionist paradigm toward the synchronistic/holistic one anyway). This aside, how, pray tell, can one make 'respectable' a man who dabbled in alchemy and Gnosticism, spoke to spirit guides and ghosts, chatted on a rooftop to a Pueblo Indian medicine man, joined in African tribal dances, wrote about aliens and UFO's, ESP and astrology as serious topics for investigation, and regularly consulted the I Ching?

Jung refused to be unsettled by intellectual scoffers who arrogantly assumed that Western causal science is somehow superior to ancient Chinese wisdom; in fact, Jung, because he valued the simplicity and holism of wisdom over the narrowness of academic specialization, delighted in the fact that the I Ching is blatantly 'unscientific' by reductionist Western standards, hence beyond the scope of its logical judgment and analysis. For a scholar, Jung had surprisingly little respect for academic rationalism, lamenting that 'universities have ceased to become the disseminators of light. People have become weary of scientific specialization and rationalistic intellectualism. They want to hear truths that broaden rather than restrict them, which do not obscure but enlighten, which do not run off them like water, but penetrate them to the marrow.' (1930 Memorial Address for Richard Wilhelm). Futhermore, Jung was not at all phased by Western academics asking him to explain why the Chinese had produced no science. To one such intellectual, he replied Tricksterishly 'that this must really be an optical illusion, because the Chinese did have a 'science' whose 'standard work' was the I Ching, but that the principle of this science, like so much else in China, was altogether different from our scientific principle.' Once into his eighth decade, Jung was no longer impressed by 'the changing opinions of men', since the 'thoughts of the old masters' had come to be more valuable to him than 'the philosophical prejudices of the Western mind.' (Foreword to the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching, Arkana, 1989, p.35).

As Jung clarifies in his introduction to the I Ching as well as in his commentary on the Chinese alchemical text The Secret of the Golden Flower, the science of the I Ching is based not on causality, but on the sychronistic principle (hence my previous discussion linking holistic scientists to Jung). Are those advocating reductionism prepared to acknowledge that holistic science - a la David Bohm et al. - is just as valid as the analytical objectivism and which is assumed to be the only 'respectable' science? Are they prepared to admit, with the kind of humility and open-mindedness that Jung displayed, that the Chinese Taoist philosophy is just as valid a 'science' as our inflated Western notions of intellectual supremacy and detachment?

Dissenter's response: 'I do object to your reliance on non-consensus science. This is one of the most serious problems within analytical psychology.'

My response:
See what I mean? It's only a 'problem' when, through circular reasoning, you presume that your (limited) understanding of science is the only valid one. So you're objecting not only to me, but to Jung's approach in the bargain.

Dissenter, scoffing at holists: 'In essence, we 'know better', so we can triumphantly cite quantum physics, or morphic resonances, or some other controversial, possibly irrelevant, or undocumented "scientific" perspective.'

My response:
Are you lumping Jung into this 'irrelevant' category - given that he had no qualms about working with the quantum physicist Pauli - nor Pauli with Jung? You arrogantly dismiss holistic science as 'controversial', 'irrelevant', and 'undocumented', hence betray the fact that you are alarmingly ill-informed as to what 'science' per se is all about. Are you seriously claiming that scientists of the giant stature and professionalism of Bohm, Bohr, Peat, Einstein and Pauli - not to mention our local hero Paul Davies and good ol' Victor Mansfield - are less credible as scientists than the likes of, say, Dawkins and Skinner? Come on, you'll have to do better than this to convince me that Jung, or the perennial philosophy for that matter, require the patronizing confirmation of reductionist science. You can't have your cake and eat it - Jung and 'current consensus perspectives' are simply not compatible.

Another series of my censored replies:
Dissenter: 'I well remember how I shuddered when my first Jungian instructor answered my question about scientific proof of the shadow by referring me to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.'

My reply:
Presumably, you do not consider it possible that scientists and artists are tapping into the same creative substratum of archetypal ideas, that both generate myths, metaphors and models to describe how we perceive reality, or that art is as valid a road to truth as science (at least as you understand 'science')?

Dissenter: 'Since then the scientist in me has become uncomfortable at Jungian meetings when speakers or audience members floated in archetypal space and clearly required a more earthy grounding.'

My reply:
Again, it's fascinating to see folk such as yourself tossing the word 'scientist' around as if it's a foregone conclusion that there's only one typological brand of such a hypothetical being. Scientists are individual people; people have differing typologies. Holists, at least in my experience of them, are in general intuitives who see the interconnectedness of all; reductionists tend to be thinkers or sensation types; hence reductionists are found in all walks of life, as are holists. Holistic scientists would not 'shudder' at the mention of Jekyll and Hyde; they instead see the thematic and mythic parallels between artistic and scientific truth; they don't compartmentalize, or privilege one pespective over another; they connect, as do Bohm, Einstein, Peat, Davies, Penrose and Mansfield. The 'scientist in me' would not react the way (the scientist in) you did to art; it would instead welcome the complementary perspectives and seek a cross-pollination between the differing disciplines eclectically, as Jung did. And lumping holistic science in with woolly-minded New Ageism is, again, a narrow-minded insult to the professional integrity of holistic scientists.

Dissenter: 'Causal assumptions help us develop very effective models of ourselves and the world we live in day to day. They can explain the regular and recurring, as well as the unique.'

My reply:
Holistic assumptions do the same, e.g. the Gaea hypothesis, which is based on the intuition of the Earth as an organic whole; in other words, science begins with certain (unprovable) philosophical assumptions about the underlying or baseline nature of reality and proceeds from there. As Einstein says, 'It's the theory that determines what we can observe.' Causality derives in Western science from Descartian dualism, which assumed that 'God' would never deviate from 'His' rules, hence would always play fair (instead of playing dice) and would always be predictable, regular and recurring (as you state in relation to causality). Hence, as I suggested, causality tends to appeal to thinking types; the holistic/synchronistic paradigm, on the other hand, appeals more to intuitives who, if they're scientists, will often gravitate toward maths or physics, which both require a high degree of intuitive and holistic thought. And here it's precisely the defiance of logic, or predictability, or regularity that is appealing (hence the apparently bizarre, illogical and unpredictable nature of certain quantum phenomena - and the I Ching. Indeed, the latter appealed to Jung - an intuitive - precisely because its effectiveness depended on its making no apparent sense logically). Perhaps, then, it's more a case of causality and synchronicity being complementary rather than contradictory?

Dissenter: "Noll's book, The Jung Cult, certainly shows that Jung's ideas about the collective unconscious had definite and rather suspect historical precursors and precedents."

My reply:
Such as? Again, this sounds suspiciously like circular reasoning. The precursors of Jung's hypothesis of the collective unconscious would be Tao, the Platonic realm of Forms, the Gnostic Pleroma, the alchemical 'unus mundus', and currently Bohm's notion (in physics) of the ubiquitous and atemporal 'holomovement'. All of these are innate intuitions of an underlying wholistic reality principle, so they are 'suspect' only if one presumes, again through circular reasoning, that such knowledge must be derived, borrowed, stolen, invented, or worked out (merely) rationally.

Let's face it, we are still ignorant of a great deal (in response to 'how' questions), but I disagree with the assumption that the only way we will understand is through a mechanistic or analytical approach - in science or elsewhere. Being critical is admirable, but it means 'able to judge', and this requires not only a detached passion for truth (at all costs), but it also includes an unavoidable 'contamination' - by all of us - with our typological biases and personal ethics. If synchronicity and holism go hand in hand (which physicists and Jung consider it does), then perhaps a more holistic approach to knowledge in general will better come to terms with the 'mechanisms' involved in matters such as astrology and the I Ching, but this may well involve a kind of 'science' that we have not yet witnessed. I invite you to bear in mind Marie-Louise von Franz's suggestion that science, too, is individuating, hence always changing its meaning and means of understanding.

Dissenter: "What you have not owned-up to, and what much of the Jungian community seems to ignore as well, is that all of these scientific connections are at best controversial and certainly have not reached consensus status."

My reply:
A great deal of innovative thought and theory in science begins with controversy and monority views; Einstein's theories started exactly in this way and were initially scoffed at by the majority 'consensus', just as Jung's ideas continue to be ridiculed by folk who wish to cling to their reductionist models. No existing paradigm of science is the final model or word, since science is not about reality per se, but rather about how we interpret, model and perceive reality. As I have repeatedly pointed out, that is a matter of typology as much as objectivity. You, on the other hand, seem to assume that there's such an entity as objective truth. Consensus, I would gently remind you, is not automatically the equivalent of 'right' or 'true' - often it's mere fashion, or cultural bias. Let's not forget that sheep follow the 'consensus', too, even when their leader marches them over a cliff.

Another dissenter:
'Before we sneer at "the academic approach", we ought to recall that the whole point of this discussion list is ACADEMIC and SCIENTIFIC discussions of Jung's psychology. Let's confine simple assertions to the Jungian vanity presses, which provide lots of ink for that approach to analytical psychology and help to explain why Jungians still can't be taken very seriously by the professional mental health community.'

My (censored) reply:
An ironic comment, surely, given that 'academic' stems from 'Academy', Plato's teaching venue in Athens. [X], whom you sneer at, as a highly respected scholar in the Jungian field is one of the few who, like Jung, reveres wisdom, ancient truths and heart gnosis above the (mere) head knowledge and intellectualism that is (in my books, at least) a mockery of true academia and Jungian thought. And alas, that abused and exploited word 'science' has been again bandied about by someone who presumes that it's the equivalent of reductionism. (And who wants to be 'taken seriously' by a mental health community that's still stuck in the dark ages of a body-mind dualism, that arrogantly slaps 'pathological' labels on anything that deviates from accepted norms, and that reinforces the authoritarian, detached, 'illusion of expertise' as a decoy for a lack of the kind of insight and effectiveness that can only be gained through renouncing control and authority, placing oneself on an equal footing with the 'patient', and being open to learning and wounding from the analysis dialogue?)

[X] would perhaps be amused, even flattered that you should label her insight as 'simple', given that simple means undivided, or whole. All great wisdom, such as the Tao (which Jung regarded so highly) is in this sense simple, yet deceptively profound, hence Jung's comment: 'How difficult it is to be simple.'

Text c.1998 Maureen B. Roberts

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