Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Jordan Peterson's Unscientific Faith in Carl Jung

The deepest flaw in Jordan Peterson's argumentation is his unscientific faith in Carl Jung. 

I speak of this as faith because I am persuaded by Richard Noll's evidence--in The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (1994) and The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (1997)--that the Jungian intellectual movement is a religious cult based on Jung's charismatic authority.  And I speak of this as unscientific because neither Jung nor Peterson has presented a scientific argument based on empirical evidence to support the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious as containing archetypes that transcend personal experience.

Peterson's commitment to the Jungian cult becomes especially troubling once one notices that Peterson's religious teaching is actually a Jungian religion of atheism derived from Nietzsche's Dionysian religion.  Peterson's Nietzschean and Jungian religion will be the subject of my next post. But here I will point to his unreasonable acceptance of Jung's psychology.

The crucial influence of Jung--as well as Nietzsche--is evident in both of Peterson's books.  In Maps of Meaning, he says: "Many people--some with an outstanding academic reputation--have cautioned me against discussing Jung, warned me about even mentioning his name in the academic context" (401).  But he suggests that this scorn for Jung is based on nothing more than irrational prejudice.  "I have never met someone," he claims, "who actually understood what Jung was talking about and who was simultaneously able to provide valid criticism of his ideas" (401-402).

Amazingly, he provides no support for this claim that no one has ever offered any valid criticism of Jung's ideas.  He never even refers to any of the critics of Jung--such as Noll or Andrew Neher ("Jung's Theory of Archetypes: A Critique," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 36 (Spring 1996): 61-91).

The fundamental idea of Jung's theory of psychology is that most of our unconscious mind arises not from our personal experiences as shaped by our particular culture, but from the impersonal collective unconscious, which contains archetypes--latent concepts and images--that are biologically inherited and that represent a universal essence that transcends human experience and that is identical for all human beings.  These archetypes have evolved as the deposits in the psyche of the constantly repeated experiences in the typical situations of life beginning with the first human ancestors tens of thousand of years ago.

Jung saw evidence for this in his own experience and in the experience of other people.  For example, one of his most often cited cases is the story of the Solar Phallus Man, which Jung insisted was conclusive evidence for a collective unconscious.  In 1911, he first reported this case:
"Honegger discovered the following hallucination in an insane man (paranoid dement): The patient sees in the sun an 'upright tail' similar to an erected penis.  When he moves his head back and forth, then, too, the sun's penis sways back and forth in a like manner, and out of that wind arises.  This strange hallucination remained unintelligible to me for a long time until I became acquainted with the Mithraic Liturgy and its visions" (quoted in Noll 1994: 182).
Mithraism was a mystery religion in ancient Rome.  The Mithraic Liturgy was first discovered, Jung observed, in a Greek papyrus in Paris that was not published until after the Solar Phallus Man had his hallucination, which was therefore indisputable evidence that this man derived his vision from the collective unconscious.

In 1959, in a televised interview, Jung was asked about this case: "But how could you be sure that your patient wasn't unconsciously recalling something that somebody once told him?"  Jung answered: "Oh, no. Quite out of the question, because that thing was not known.  It was a magic papyrus in Paris, and it wasn't even published.  It was only published four years later, after I had observed it with my patient" (Noll 1994: 182).

Noll points out, however, that there were at least three accounts of the Mithraic Liturgy published prior to the hallucination of the Solar Phallus Man--in books by Johann Jakob Bachofen, Friedrich Creuzer, and Eugen Dieterich.  So it's possible that this hallucination was derived from this man's reading or hearing about this image from the Mithraic Liturgy.

In fact, Jung never conclusively ruled out the possibility that all of his cases that seemed to show archetypical mythic images and stories arising from the  collective unconscious could be better explained through the cultural diffusion of myths and symbols.

Peterson says nothing about this. Nor does he say anything about Jung's strange claims in the 1930s about National Socialism being an expression of the German God Wotan.  Jung never explained how Wotan could be a universal archetype and yet a distinctively German archetype.  And since Peterson has been so concerned with explaining the evil of totalitarian movements like Nazism, it's surprising that he never reflects on Jung's apparent endorsement of Nazism as a reawakening of German pagan religion.

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