Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Symbolic meaning can override empirical facts

Voodoo Garden
Ever vigilant, our scarecrow guards our garden against whatever lurks in night shadows
Contrary to what the climate change naysayers wish us to believe, science is grounded in fact, not based on arbitrary opinion: science is an exacting, self-correcting experimental method for determining, based on the information given, what facts are true and what the relationship, if any, exists between facts.[1]

But, as Carl Jung and many others have asserted, there are other equally legitimate whys of knowing based on symbols, mythology, or even through our imagination and our own lived bodily experience.

One such voice is Rita M. Gross writing about Buddhism in in the Spring 2013 edition of Tricycle Magazine in an essay entitled: The Matter of Truth: The Heavy Cost of Literalism. A brief excerpt follows:

“[F]or many modern Buddhists, the symbolic meanings contained in traditional forms are approached with an outlook steeped in the worldview of the European Enlightenment, in which truth and value lie mainly with empirical facts. Truth, in this case, is found as a result of impersonal, objective observation, and it can be duplicated by anyone with proper training under the same circumstances. There is little room in this view of things for affirming meaning as it is communicated through symbolic forms or for the understanding that, for some purposes, the value of symbolic meaning can override empirical facts or even that sometimes factual information is irrelevant to symbolic meaning…

One finds in Buddhist tradition a distinction between "words" and "meaning," which are often very different from one another, and we would do well to consider the traditional advice-whether we are looking at statues or interpreting teachings-to pay attention to symbolic meaning and not be limited to literal meaning.

Traditional people recognize that what is known through imagination, whether or not it can observed empirically, is worthy of portrayal. We moderns, however, though we think ourselves incomparably more sophisticated than traditional people, have little understanding or appreciation of symbolic experience and having committed ourselves to an empirical worldview we live within its narrow confines."

[1] The only caveat is that our knowledge of the universe, in my opinion, is extremly rudimentary. New discoveries will continue to overthrow established truth, creating the continuing need for new paradigms about the nature of reality.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jungian Images Haunt My Dreams

CC byJean Stimmell 2/2/13

Jung had many profound insights that were far ahead of his time...or even today's time. One such insight is that "Science must recognize the as yet incalculable catastrophe which its advances have brought... [to the] still infantile man of today." (The Symbolic Life, Colume 18 of Jung's Collected Works, par 1367)

Here's what Jung wrote in 1912:

“You see, America does not see that it is in any danger. It does not understand that it is facing its most tragic moment: a moment in which it must make a choice to master its machines or to be devoured by them ...” (PP. 17-18 1912 C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Ed., Wm .McGuire and R.F.C. Hull. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977)

Since then, the evidence keeps accumulating that Jung was right:
1) machines have multiplied at an exponential rate, taking over not only our work but our thinking;
2) increasing  machine-like regimentation and bureaucracy have deprived us of our human need for sense of place and uprooted us from community;
3) unimaginable new weapons of mass destruction proliferate in an increasingly unstabile world;
4) and, worst of all, technology-driven, human-caused climate change now threatens our very survival as a species – along with the extinction of many other of our fellow living beings on spaceship Earth.

As Jung wrote 19 years later in 1931:

“The machines which we have invented, for instance, are now our master. Machines are running away with us, they are demons; they are like those huge old saurians that existed when man was a sort of lizard-monkey and deadly afraid of their hooting and tooting. By his will man has invented a Mesozoic world again, monsters that crush thousands by their voice and their weight.”
(P.502 1931 Interpretation of Visions.Claire Douglass. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. 2 volumes)

* I took these quotes from a wonderful book edited by Meredih Sabini, The Earth has a Soul: C. G. Jung on Nature, Technology and Modern Life.