Written by Bernardo Kastrup


Review by Gunnel Minett

There is no question that the author Bernardo Kastrup is a great supporter of Carl Jung. In order to write this book he re-read the complete works of Jung, going through them in great detail. His aim was to extract the essence of Jung’s seminal contributions to our understanding of the human psyche and to bring them into the 21st century. 

One motive for this ‘update’ is that, despite the fact that Jung was born nearly 150 years ago and died around 60 years ago, he was well ahead of his time. Jung is a figure who has to be on the agenda of contemporary psychology students. Along with Freud, Jung pioneered the systematic exploration of the human psyche, beyond what had previously been attempted. In addition they introduced the realm of the ‘unconscious’ to modern psychology and emphasised the understanding of dreams. However, unlike Freud, who saw the unconscious as merely a passive ‘storage space’ for repressed and/or forgotten content, Jung saw the unconscious as active and creative. Jung explored this more dynamic concept of the unconscious, analysing its importance for our psychological wellbeing and mapping out its exact role. 

Jung’s conclusions included the possibility that our psychic life may continue beyond our physical death. He believed in a much closer and more direct relationship between matter and psyche than anyone had ever assume before (and even today). He also saw the whole universe as being full of symbolic meaning, as if we are living in some sort of interactive dreamworld. 

In Kastrup’s own words: “Jung was an extremely intuitive thinker who favoured analogies, similes and metaphors over direct and unambiguous exposition, appearing to frequently contradict himself. This happened because he didnt use linear argument structures, but instead circumambulated—a handy Jungian term meaning to walk round about’—the topic in question in an effort to convey the full gamut of his intuitions about it. Indeed, he didnt arrive at his views purely through steps of reasoning to begin with, but largely through visionary experience. It is thus only natural that he should express these views in an intuitive, analogical manner.”(p 9-10) 

So in this book Kastrup takes on the role of an interpreter of Jung, looking particularly at Jung’s explanations of; the psyche, archetypes, synchronicity, metaphysics and religion.

Regarding the psyche, Kastrup emphasises Jung’s view that the psyche “…refers to the human mind in the most general and comprehensive sense.“ (p 12) This means that Jung included in the concept both conscious and unconscious processes. Kastrup goes through step by step how Jung arrived at this understanding and draws parallels with other philosophers and the modern understanding of the mind and psyche. For Kastrup, understanding Jung’s explanation of the psyche is crucial to understanding and interpreting his metaphysics.

Kastrup writes: “In summary, according to Jung consciousness is a subset of what we today call phenomenal consciousness.In addition to being experiential in nature, conscious contents must: 

  • (a)  fall under the control of deliberate personal volition; 
  • (b)  be meta-cognitively re-represented or reflected, so as to
    be introspectively accessible and reportable; and 
  • (c)  be linked within a firmly-knit web of cognitive

Concerning archetypes, Kastrup starts by discussing in detail what Jung sees as the unconscious: “As weve seen thus far, for Jung the unconscious comprises: 

  • (a)  relatively autonomous—‘objective’—experiences outside the control of deliberate personal volition; 
  • (b)  experiences that, relative to consciousness, lack re- representation and, therefore, are at least less easily accessible through self-reflective introspection; 
  • (c)  experiences that, relative to consciousness, lack cognitive associations and, therefore, cant be placed in as wide a cognitive context; and 
  • (d)  somewhat conscious experiences belonging to internally connected webs of associations, such webs being, however, dissociated from ego-consciousness. (p 30)

From this Kastrup moves on to look at how Jung defines what he calls:‘psychoid’—‘almost psychicor psychic-like’—contents, as opposed to fully psychic contents. According to Jung the structure and contents of the collective unconscious and our personal unconscious are not linked with conscious experiences, as described by Freud. For Jung the personal unconscious, corresponds more or less to Freud’s description of dissociated, repressed, forgotten or other contents which stem from ego-consciousness. The structure of the collective unconscious, on the other hand, is, according to Jung, based on what he calls ‘archetypes’. They are the primordial templates of our psychic activities and are not entirely under the control of our beliefs, thoughts or emotions. Jung claims that the archetypes are linked to our instincts and act as drives and regulators of the content in our conscious mind.

In describing archetypes, Jung also turns to dreams. He regards these as important for understanding both our personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. According to Kastrup Jung’s conclusion was that: The ultimate goal of psychic life is to expose to the light of consciousness—i.e. to cognitively connected, deliberate, self-reflective introspection— every aspect of the psyche, either directly or through their effects on ego-consciousness, so the psyche can meta-cognitively know itself fully. (p 45)

Another of Jung’s major contributions is his notion of synchronicity. This is also important to understanding his metaphysics. According to Jung: “synchronicity transcends the boundaries of psychology and makes statements about the physical world at large.” (p 46) Jungclaimed that more than the mechanical chains of cause and effect (recognised by science) are involved in synchronicity: in addition, “archetypically determined relationships of meaning” (particularly in dreams) also play a role. Kastrup explains how Jung differentiated between mechanical cause and effect and synchronicity and describes how this influenced his understanding of metaphysics. In this context, Kastrup refers to Jung’s relationship with the physicist, Wolfgang Pauli who seems to have influenced Jung’s thoughts on this subject. Kastrup argues that Jung held back on expressing his metaphysics, in order not to appear too heterodox to the established science of his time, which may have scared Pauli away. Interestingly, since then science has advanced in a way (in particular in quantum physics) which supports Jung’s position. With this hindsight we can see how remarkable an intuitive thinker Jung was. 

Part of Jung’s metaphysics involved the view that there is a unifying ground for both psyche and physics which can only be experiential. In his book Synchronicity: An A-causal Connecting Principle, for instance, Jung writes: “Meaningful coincidences … seem to rest on an archetypal foundation”. (S p 34) From this Jung goes on to argue that a person’s individual consciousness, (ego-consciousness) is a manifestation of a wider unconsciousness. According to Jung, it must follow that the physical world itself is another manifestation of the same collective unconscious. In other words, the physical world is as experiential as the psyche itself, and that the expression of archetypes is global. That is to say that:“archetypal patterns organise the world instantaneously across space, operating within the degrees of freedom left open by the indeterminacy of quantum-level events.” (p 64)

In his writings on metaphysics, Jung repeatedly claimed that his work was empirical rather than philosophical or theological and described himself as a “metaphysically agnostic scientist of the psyche, not a philosopher.” (p 71) As a consequence, Jung focused on empirical evidence, which can’t be ignored on philosophical grounds, in an attempt to insulate his work from the philosophical fashions of his time. This meant in effect that Jung was holding back his real views in order to come across as a “metaphysically agnostic scientist”

Kastrup summaries Jung’s contribution as follows: “Three key ideas underlie his implicit metaphysical system: first, that of the collective unconscious as a transpersonal experiential field, which generates all autonomous imagery we experience as both the perceived physical world and the worlds of dreams and visions; second, that of consciousness as an internally connected web of psychic contents that turns in upon itself so as to enable self-reflection; and third, that of daemons, autonomous psychic complexes that, although internally connected and conscious, are dissociated from their psychic surroundings.“ (p 116)

Kastrup’s thorough analysis of Jung’s understanding of psyche, archetypes, synchronicity and  metaphysics, leads him to consider Jung’s views on religion. Kastrup points to what he describes as Jung’s genius when he writes in Psychology and Religion: “The psyche reaches so far beyond the boundary line of consciousness that the latter could be easily compared to an island in the ocean. While the island is small and narrow, the ocean is immensely wide and deep, so that if it is a question of space, it does not matter whether the gods are inside or outside. (P &R p102). So, rather than neutering religion, Kastrup concludes that Jung sees that religion is as “significant as anything can possibly be.”(p 105)

Kastrup concludes that Jung’s understanding of the collective unconscious was developed in order to make sense of the symbolic themes in his patients’ dreams and psychotic visions. In addition, it explains the synchronicities between dreams and his patients’ experiences in the world that surrounds them. But Jung did not stop there. He also saw parallels withthe physical universe: he claimed that the collective unconscious explains the nature of the physical world; the universe is in fact an outer appearance of the experiential inner life. 

This book is the perfect summary for those interested in understanding Jung’s contribution but find his original work a bit overwhelming: not only does Kastrup extract the essentials necessary to understand Jung’s vision of the inner and outer worlds of experience, but he also compares Jung’s ideas with those of other philosophies as well as with contemporary science.

Published by IFF Books, UK, 2021, 160 PP http://www.iff-books.com, ISBN: 978 1 78904 565 9