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Reply To: Temptations of Clarity,” with Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D.”

Robert Juliano

Thank you, Mark, for your essay! My thoughts:

As a multidisciplinary scholar, one of whose fields is depth psychology (others are theoretical computer science, mathematics, electrical engineering, and complexity science), I am appreciative of the necessity of blurry lines and have reflected on some of the positives and negatives of clarity. Here, I am reminded of the Unknowable which often needs to be expressed in the form of opposites, contradictions, and paradoxes. Such, it seems, is the most effective way of communicating it, an approach which has a long distinguished history. Jung, regarding Nicholas of Cusa, wrote that he considered “antinomial thought as the highest form of reasoning.” Jung would also write that paradox “does more justice to the unknowable than clarity can do, for uniformity of meaning robs the mystery of its darkness and sets it up as something that is known. That is a usurpation, and it leads the human intellect into hybris by pretending that it, the intellect, has got hold of the transcendent mystery by a cognitive act and has “grasped” it. The paradox therefore reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

But, for a number of reasons, I want to take the side of striving for clarity and straight dividing lines in my response. I am motivated to do this because in my experience of the fields of depth psychology and comparative mythology, there is a strong tendency when confronted with (painful) contradictions to avoid taking certain themes to their logical conclusion. Instead of putting in the legwork to flush out these contradictions, one relaxes in a realm of images and myth where the contradictions lose their sharpness and where one can really say anything they want and couch it in seemingly scholarly thought and expressions. The uroboric nature of imaginal thought, one which is so very important for us, is exceedingly seductive as a way of doing this. But, it is my opinion that to give up prematurely on achieving clarity is as detrimental as holding such an achievement as the only possible goal in our striving.

Let me begin with a topic I wrote about regarding intuition entitled Reflections on Intuition Based on the Ramanujan/Hardy Collaboration in Formal Mathematics (1914-1920). In my note on this, the field of formal mathematics was used as the context in which to explore intuition because such a rigorous context can reveal greater clarity and specificity on how intuition works and what its strengths and weaknesses are, and it can help us understand why intuition sometimes expresses “wrong” possibilities. One of the reasons I cited for these “wrong” possibilities is that often there is more leg-work [reading, proofs, derivations, reflections, debates, revisiting assumptions, etc.] which needs to be done by the conscious mind. Crucially, the quality and clarity of what the unconscious provides is fundamentally dependent on the quality of the work which is done by one’s conscious mind. Therefore, the conscious mind must be a good partner to the unconscious by doing the leg work. In return, the unconscious processes can put together, evaluate, and select from many more combinations thereby providing a better piece of the puzzle from which to develop a mathematical solution. Here, striving for clarity is an exceedingly helpful process because it significantly aids in the non-rational complementary movement of the unconscious. Short-circuiting this striving for clarity can be quite detrimental and the unconscious very well may respond in a far more muddled, enigmatic way.

Having said this, we must know when we can no longer proceed in the manner which led us to a given point. In my note entitled The Abyss and The Alchemical Vessel, I reflect on the Biblical Book of Job (38:11) which says “You may come this far, but no farther” as a meditation on limit, coming to the edge, arriving at the logical conclusion of one’s current striving. And I began that note by considering my favorite work of Jung’s, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man (CW 10) which he first published in 1928. I like this essay because it gives you a sense of the modern person being the culmination of all of what we thought was best in human development and human knowledge, but one who can go no further by relying solely on the approach that got them there in the first place. Such a person, holding their course to its logical conclusion, achieves (the horror of) the abyss but, in a compensatory move, the unconscious now becomes alive in that person, offering a more accurate view of his possibilities. Modern man, it seems to me, has earned this voice from the unconscious by not prematurely abandoning his path even in the presence of this uncertainty, disillusionment, skepticism, etc. For, as Jung wrote, “it is from need and distress that new forms of existence arise, and not from idealistic requirements or mere wishes”

Another advantage of striving for clarity and straight dividing lines is the tension that this builds, the energy of which can lead to transformation. In depth psychotherapy, as well as in other fields, we see holding onto and enduring the suffering of the opposites leads to, deo concedente, the emergence of a uniting symbol, the integration of which leads to an elevated individual. Crucially, when this happens, there is still no solution to the opposites – the dividing lines remain clear and distinct. What has changed, however, is that the individual is no longer a prisoner of those opposites and can relate to them with far more of their being. Had the sharpness of the dividing lines been reduced (or saw through), no energetic tension would have been generated and no such growth would have occurred.

My general view on the advantage of clarity and straight dividing lines is this: The real work, the deep co-creative work with the unconscious, can begin when one has done all they can with their consciousness to solve the problem (strive for clarity), hold onto and endure the opposites (straight dividing lines), etc. – in short, eliminated all of the leaks (which would short-circuit a clear response by the unconscious). As a result of this, the alchemical vessel is formed, one in which the opus can continue, consciousness and unconscious in partnership, the vessel facilitating the mixing of the two in which a solution can emerge – the abyss being the condition par excellence for its formation.