Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychiatrist/psychologist of the century rarely needs an introduction. However, to put the essay in context, let us start with a short biographical sketch of his personality and ideas. Carl Gustav Jung was born in a small village in Switzerland as a son of a poor Christian pastor. The first sentence of his autobiography starts with the sentence: “My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious”. And this sums up the whole constellation of idea Jung brought into light. Rather than a regular, conscious beginning to his intellectual life, Jung was predisposed to a very wide spectrum of psychological experiences from his early age. He was acutely aware of his Unconscious and was very sympathetic to the concepts of dreams, death and so-called unseen “Psychic” forces. In his biography, Jung has talked about a dream he had at the age of 3-4 years, which according to him, was the creative nucleus behind his evolution to the level of mystic-psychologist. He happened to remember the dream later, when he was working on his dream-theory. In the dream, he saw a phallus made of skin and flesh with an eye on its head, which was constantly gazing upward and was situated on a magnificent crown. Apparently, the dream filled him with horror and he was haunted by its seemingly filthy and immoral nature. At the time, Jung developed the awareness that there are certain secretes embedded deep down in our mind, that no religious philosophy has an answer, especially Christianity. “This possession of secret had a very powerful formative influence on my character”. [1]

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies -- Wikipedia

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies — Wikipedia

This realization was in total antagonism with his father’s Christian theological teachings, which filled him with immense existential-ethical distress. He was aware that there is something deeper and darker about our psyche and Christianity has nothing to offer in its regard. So at the very early stage, he developed a strong dissonance with Christian idea of all-good, righteous and moral God. How an all-loving and kind God also has the darker manifestations of vindictiveness and wrath? How can there be all Good, when we are living with the stark realization of possessing something dark, shadowy and nocturnal? At the age of 11, he finally broke from this self-deprecating shell, with the realization that his neurosis is the result of conflict between his unconscious and the concept of theological god. At the meantime, he was amused by his infatuation with the 18th century and the strong sense of connection with the past. Probably, this was his most rudimentary realization of collective unconscious and his encounter with the elemental archetypes. He tried to get his hands on as much philosophy he can get from his Father’s library, which was not very diversely formed. He found Hegel and Thomas Aquinas to be hopelessly academic, the shallow philosophical conundrums with no existential and spiritual significance. And the resolution of his neurosis finally came with his reading of Goethe’s Faust. He was delighted to see that the secret he was possessed of, is not a secret after all and probably it is the very fabric of our psyche! He was dazzled by Goethe’s archaic symbolism, which seemed to be derived from the deeper, darker and unchartered alleys of our psyche. It was his Eureka moment, his first experiential conviction of the presence of “Unconscious”, which was later to be formalized as the cornerstone of his thinking. The connection of Jung with Goethe is also a mysterious one. The legend is, Sophie Ziegler had an illegitimate child with Goethe and that child was Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, grandfather of Carl Jung. Did Jung feel the very important spiritual connection with Goethe due to the alleged blood-relation and was subconsciously inspired to portray him as the most pivotal person of his life? This can be a matter of debate, however, Jung has not explicitly stated anything in this regard.

Carl Jung despised mathematics and was enchanted by social sciences like archeology and the topics relating to socio-anthropological significance. He has credited his dream of a giant radiolarian for finally choosing a career into science, that is, medicine. But at the meantime, he developed an acute understanding of collective unconscious based on his personal experience. He similarly developed the conviction that the experiential certitude of such things does not require formal proof. For him, unconscious is as real as mountains and stars; however, its validity cannot be captured within a narrow formalist scheme of measurability, and therefore must be resorted to personal experience, corroborated by its psycho-social universality.

Psyche as a self-regulating System: One of the most profound ideas of Carl Jung can be found in his rendition of dynamic and relational nature of human-psyche. As soon as we recognize the relational-dynamics to be the intrinsic feature of human-psyche, we can safely move in the direction where psyche has to be viewed as a self-organizing system. The concept of psyche as the self-organizing system can be arguably traced back to the works of German Psychologist/Physiologist/Painter, Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869). It was a statement of great ingenuity and certainly, ahead of his time when he said “Unconscious, to a certain extent, continuous, it is constantly re-forming, always destroying and renewing”. [2] However, the deeper psychological implication of this concept was first fully realized by Carl Gustav Jung. Matthew Bell in his essay “C.G. Carus and the science of Unconscious” has argued that, Carus with all his astute and prolific observations was still more dominantly a philosopher belonging to Schellingian idealism. What it purports is: There was still a rift between “The philosophy of unconscious” and a proper “psychology of unconscious”. And there was an urgent need of a transition to psychology based on its philosophy propounded by Carus, and all the thinkers in- between Carus and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the gap was finally filled by Jung.

In his book “Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche”, Jung has outlined two approaches that can be employed for the studies of physical events. According to Jung, any physical/mental event can be viewed under the broader paradigms of mechanism and energy, such that their resultant approaches can be termed mechanistic and energetic respectively. Mechanistic paradigm is based on delineating the associated causality that governs the evolution of the system, whereas energetic paradigm is more concerned with the system’s finality, where the concept of energy is “abstracted from relations of movements”. Hence the primary philosophical shift is evidently from “substantial to the relational”, “atomistic to the holistic” and from “static to dynamic”.
“Finality is not only logically possible, it is also an indispensable explanatory principle, since no explanation of nature can be mechanistic only”. [3]
Under the new light, our knowledge of the external/internal world is also the result of constant relational inter-penetration of causal and the final approaches. To understand the system at its totality, we must be aware of both of its causal and final sides; a strict adherence to only one type of approach will further create the similar problem of “error of misplaced concretism” and other metaphysical loops. Without much confusion, here we can relate the faculty of “Thinking” to be more dominant in case of mechanistic approach and the faculty of “Feeling” to be more dominating in case of energetic approach. However, it is to be carefully noted that “feeling” and “thinking” do not happen in isolation, thus rendering our psyche with more fluid and plastic characteristics. To have the complete understanding of our psyche, we need to be aware of the constant interaction between the two approaches; the material and the relational, and the inertial and the dynamic. If we do not incorporate the energetic approach, which relies on the fundamentals of relations and interactions, our psyche will be synonymous with Cartesian “mind”, an epiphenomenon, devoid of any intrinsic legitimacy. Psyche as a self-subsistent meaning-creating system can only be understood when it is viewed as a self-organizing system.
“The psyche deserves to be taken as a phenomenon in its own right; there are no grounds at all for regarding it as a mere epiphenomenon, dependent though it may be on the functioning of the brain. One would be as little justified in regarding life as an epiphenomenon of the chemistry of carbon compounds”. [4]
Reality then cannot be viewed as an isolated event, standing apart from our psyche at its own right. It is a process under constant evolution and involution, forming a rhizomatic connection with our psyche, in a dynamic-relational manner. Above all, we are the meaning-creating organism; we create reality and churn the meaning out of it. The whole systems of ethics, art, science, philosophy and religion can then be viewed as the offshoots of our psyche, self-adjusting and self-organizing amidst the ever changing flux of material-spiritual monads.
“Living reality is the product of neither of the actual, objective behavior of things nor of the formulated idea exclusively, but rather of the combination of both in the living psychological process, through esse in anima. Only through the specific vital energy of the psyche does the sense-impression attain that intensity and the idea that effective force, which are the two indispensable constituents of living reality.” [5]
We don’t abide in isolation, we create relationships and, further recreated by them in a dynamic and non-linear sort of way. Meanings and value-systems, in the similar way are not the platonic ideals, but the very fabric of the processorial nature of our psyche. “The meaning of life” or “the value of existence”, if we try to resolve causally, will leave us with few schools of philosophy and nothing more. On the other hand, we need to retort these questions energetically, as a rhizome or a process. A question is always identical with the questioner and the answer is not the crystallization of particular idea, but the shape of ever-growing/ever-changing web of relationships between interrogation and the interrogator. Meanings are not isolated events; they are created, recreated, erased and repainted continually. It is the attainment of that self-regulation/organization, a homeostasis between the questioner and the question; not the solution of the problem, but the inadvertent inter-penetration of problems with the Being. In the strict causalistic sense, there is neither sense nor meaning of the mysterium called “Life”.

“The psyche creates reality every day”. [6]
If we go through the history of natural science, we will realize that the very question about “the origin of life” is liable to fall in tatters, when viewed through strict causal lens. Based on the current premise of natural-science, the best we can surmise is, Life emerged miraculously from the primordial molecular chaos, purely as a chance occurrence. There is no causal way to link the incomprehensible multiplicity of life and consciousness to its carbon-compound underground. We have to accept the fact that, rather than a singular event, life is the totality of relational networks which derives its temporal direction only through its intrinsic self-organizing nature. Rather than conforming to the eternal and unchanging theorems, life creates its own poetry, its own science and its own set of rules which cannot be viewed in isolation to life itself. When we see that life is a process, a becoming or a painting, we are already shifting from causal to energetic description. And this also applies in the case of psyche. If we stick to the pure causal explanations of the psyche, we will be forever doomed to epiphenomenalism, where psyche is no more than the summation of its corresponding neuronal activities. And as long as we stick to our psyche to be the byproduct of neuronal manifold, there are absolutely no ways to explain its intrinsic creative-dynamic nature and its role as the fountainhead of infinite meanings and senses. Psyche is to be understood as the self-organizing system which creates meanings and directions by its very dynamism and relationality. Meanings are not the platonic ideals happening in isolation, they are the historic categories that our psyche self-organizationally generates to create a complete and undivided “Self”. If we keep proceeding in the direction partially lighted by the beacon of causality, we will never reach to the answers to our questions relating to “meanings of life”,” sense of existence”, “existence of god” or the “origin of ethics”. There are no answers because, we are the answers. These conflicts can be resolved but can never be answered, because we are the very answers we are seeking. There is no answer to look outside. We live the answer in the very process of life we are embedded in. The very process of “Living life” is totally indistinguishable from the “meaning of life”.

“The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system”. [7]
The self-organizing nature of life and psyche can only be understood if we are ready to look beyond the prevalent causalistic-reductionistic approach and move towards the realm of dynamic finalistic-relationism. This consequently requires us to forgo our millennia-old habits of atomization and linearization, and to understand that our “without and within” are suffused with web of relationships. Even though the causalistic paradigm has some pragmatic applications, there is an urgent need to incorporate energy and finality of relations to prevent ourselves from helplessly precipitating into the statis of concepts, formalism and philosophy. This is more beautifully expressed by Jung in the following: “The idea of development is possibility only if the concept of an immutable substance is not hypostatized by appeals to a so-called “objective reality”-that is to say, if causality is not assumed to be identical with the behavior of things. The idea of development requires the possibility of change in substances, which from the energic standpoint, appears as systems of energy capable of theoretically unlimited interchangeability and modulation under the principle of equivalence and the obvious assumption of a difference in potential. [8]
Here Jung was proposing to move towards a more non-essentialist, historic and processorial standpoint regarding the study of psyche, which is based on the acceptance of its intrinsically dynamic quality. When we move towards the energetic standpoint, it requires us to transcend the causal though-process and to view our world as an ever-changing multiplicity, furnished by incessant interplay between its constituents. The most impressive thing about his observation is its striking resemblance with the new though-currents in physical science, which is also advocating non-linear interrelationship to account for the description of life and cosmos as the self-organizing systems. Jung’s representation of psyche as the self-organizing system, which is a multiple and dynamic category precedes the similar conceptual shift in natural-science by more than half of the century.
“The Psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in equilibrium as the body does”. [9]
When natural science has recently entertained the idea of cosmos and life as the self-organizing system running far from equilibrium, Jung was way too ahead to come up with the similar conceptual premises within the realm of psychology. As he said With “…appears as systems of energy capable of theoretically unlimited interchangeability and modulation under the principle of equivalence and the obvious assumption of a difference in potential”, he was most definitely talking about the systems which are capable of creating structures, shapes and patterns facilitated by the preferential flow of energy, that is, non-equilibrium;”the difference in potential”.

[1] Jung, CG. (1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books
[2] Nicholls, A & Liebscher M (2010). Thinking the Unconscious: 19th Century German Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press
[3] Jung, CG. (1975). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. New Jersey: Princeton University Press (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition: Vol-8, Para-4)
[4] Jung, CG. (1975). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. New Jersey: Princeton University Press (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition: Vol-8, Para-10)
[5] Jung, CG. (1974). Psychological Types. New Jersey: Princeton University Press (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition: Vol-6, Para-77)
[6] Jung, CG. (1974). Psychological Types. New Jersey: Princeton University Press (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition: Vol-6, Para-78)
[7] Wilhelm, R. (1947). The Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd.
[8] Jung, CG. (1975). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. New Jersey: Princeton University Press (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition: Vol-8, Para-41)
[9] Jung, CG. (2001). Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Oxon: Routledge Classics

Sudeep Adhikari from Kathmandu (Nepal), is professionally a PhD in Structural Engineering. He lives in Kathmandu with his family and works as an Engineering-Consultant/Part-time Lecturer. He is a keen observer of inter-disciplinary dynamics between science, philosophy, religion, literature, music, mathematics and psychology, and its implications on the epistemological foundation of human ideas. His poetry has also found its place in more than 40 literary journals/magazines (online, print) across the world. The author kindly likes to point the fact that, the essay is the result of his independent research and is therefore looking for appropriate corrections/suggestions, if required. The author can be reached at

SUDEEP ADHIKARI “A Philosophical Investigation of the Idea of ‘Psyche as a Self-Organizing System’ within the Premises of Jungian Depth-Psychology”
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