The apple of enlightenment

When I was reading Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, I was fascinated by how he presented the Age of Enlightenment. Coming out of the Middle Ages, in which religion predominated, Western civilisation pushed for a more preponderant role of reason. The pendulum has swung so far to the other side that we have come to a point in which reason completely dominates every thought, every idea. Extreme rationalism now determines every move in our lives. Everything that is logical, reasonable is acceptable. Illogical, unreasonable is unacceptable. The only reality that exists is that which I can directly perceive with my five senses, prove empirically or at least reach through a deductive process of cause and effect that starts in sensory perception. If I can not perceive it with my five senses or I can not demonstrate its existence or veracity through sheer logic, then it just does not exist. Anybody who insists on the existence of realities that can not be demonstrated by reason is a liar, a fool or a lunatic. And, of course, a menace to our rational society. This means that everything that has to do with the unconscious and unconscious processes is hardly acceptable. Not surprisingly, the enthronisation of reason as our only ruler had a major casualty: God. We “killed” God, as if this was ever possible, and we gradually eliminated everything that was associated with it, with the soul, with the deep unconscious, with everything that is not the conscious ego. And, as we should have expected, this extreme rationalism combined with the inevitable extreme materialism has brought the Western man to insufferable alienation. We no longer know who we are, we have been unrooted and we desperately look for something to cling ourselves to, something “real”, so that we will not be washed away by the current. Our roots are in our own unconscious, but we can no longer see them. If we were only able to accept the presence of the unconscious in ourselves and to reach balance between our conscious mind and our unconscious… but we can’t.

As a scientist, I have to rely on the facts to build a theory. But at the same time, to accept that the only reality that exists is that which I can touch, see, smell, hear or taste is, to me, pretentious and naïve to the extreme. Some animals only see in black and white, does this mean that colours don’t exist? I understand that they don’t exist for them, but does it mean they don’t exist at all? I accept the possibility, at least, that a reality exists which I can not perceive with my senses or deduce by logical reasoning. Anyway, I digress.

“I early arrived at the insight that when no answer comes from within to the problems and complexities of life, they ultimately mean very little. Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience. Therefore my life has been singularly poor in outward happenings. I cannot tell much about them, for it would strike me as hollow and insubstantial. I can understand myself only in the light of inner happenings. It is these that make up the singularity of my life”.

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

When I was reading MDR, somehow I remembered the story of Adam, Eve, the snake and the apple. Adam and Eve were happily living in Paradise, where they could do as they pleased except for one thing: to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The snake convinces Eve that God doesn’t want them to eat the fruit because they would acquire wisdom and become gods themselves. Adam and Eve are convinced by this explanation and eat. Immediately, they feel the consequences, the first of which is to realise they are naked. In symbolic dream language, they feel insecure. They are then expelled form Paradise.

I always saw this as a reasonable punishment. Honestly, what did you expect…? But now I realise that God was not punishing them. Instead, he had been trying to protect them. To protect them from the consequences of “wisdom”, of extreme reason, which completely and automatically alienates them from Paradise. Maybe ignorance is bliss, maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. The Age of Knowledge has brought us prosperity, health and technological progress, but it is no substitute for inner development. It has also alienated us and has repressed everything in ourselves that is not purely rational. At times, we are even perplexed that such progress has not brought happiness, not as much as we thought it would, anyway. We need to regain balance, between our conscious ego and our unconscious, between reason and our inner “illogical” life. Balance is everything.