Sunday, May 25, 2003

Jung at Heart

I've been reading Carl Jung, and reading about him and his work, for only about a decade now. In fact I've read very little out of all that exists. His writings and writings about him could easily occupy the remainder of my years. I enjoy the experience of reading him; I enjoy his voice. And of course I learn a great deal.

When the millennium turned there was some mild media attempt to name the most significant figures of the 20th century. Names like Churchill and Einstein were usually at the top. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I firmly believe that if humanity in some civilized condition manages to survive this century, historians of the 22nd century will look back and judge Carl Jung as among the two or three most important figures of the 20th century. Partly because, if our civilization doesn't learn what Jung knew, it's very unlikely to get past this century.

I don't profess to any special insight or authority, and certainly not background, to evaluate his work. Apart from my draft physical, I've never seen a psychologist or psychiatrist as a patient. I've never wanted to be an analyst, and I don't seem to have the knack for dream analysis or insights. I took psychology in college for about a week---I dropped out almost immediately, appalled. Reading the opening chapters of Anthony Stevens' book called Archetypes, I realized why. In the mid-60s academic psychology was in the throes of what Stevens' calls "neobehaviorist fundamentalism." All that was real was observable behavior. Stimulus and response, reward and punishment, humans as rats in the maze. The psyche had literally been taken out of psychology. No wonder I fled for my life.

I read some Freud and R.D. Laing in college and afterwards, some Maslow, May, Erikson, Fromm, Karen Horney,etc.  The closest I got to Jung was reading Robertson Davies' account of a Jungian analysis in his novel The Manticore.  This de-mystified analysis for me.  All I'd known about was Freud, and he seemed too dogmatic and, well, fixated.

Much of this was interesting and intriguing.  But what really hit home was when somehow I glommed onto James Hillman's formidable work in the early 90s. I think it started with a magazine article in which he was quoted, and maybe also by way of Robert Bly and his poetry readings for men (he and Hillman and Michael Meade edited an excellent anthology of poems, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart). I do remember my first conversation about Hillman---it may have been how I heard about his books--- was with a ceramics artist. Artists, he said, especially male artists, and most especially depressed male artists, like Hillman.

I read as much Hillman as I could find. By now I've read almost everything in book form, though one reading is generally just a fly-by, with moments of startling recognition, affirmation or shocking not-what-I-want-to-hear insight . His earlier work in particular referred back to Jung. I was additionally initiated into Jung by Joseph Cambell's interviews with Bill Moyers, and by Chris in the Morning on Northern Exposure, and even Counsellor Troi on The Next Generation, and probably lots more I've forgotten. And so I started reading Jung. I was amazed that I seemed to understand much of it, what I seemed to understand made sense, and I enjoyed reading a good deal of the rest as well. So that kept me reading.

I began with the usual anthologies, such as Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Psyche and Symbol and the Portable Jung. Eventually I got to his Memories, Dreams and Reflections, a kind of soul autobiography,which is one of the most amazing and important books I've ever read.

Over the years I'd buy whatever I found by or about Jung at used bookstores, thrift stores, library sales, etc. I managed to assemble a nice little collection that way. Jung is famous for the women who studied and worked with him, and who had distinguished careers on their own that continued after his death. I have books on Jung by five of them, some now hard to find.

In recent years I've scavenged for volumes in the Princeton/Bollengen series, which is the closest you can get to his collected works in paperback. And I've searched out a few books I'd read about, such as the one I just finished reading, Laurens van der Post's memoir, Jung And the Story of Our Time.

This Vintage paperback from the 70s (which I found on the Internet at a quite reasonable price) is just about the only one available. Even with an ineradicable staleness wafting from its yellowing pages, it was compelling. Van der Post knew Jung for the last 16 years of his life. This book contains recollections and a few anecdotes, but is really van der Post's brief on Jung's importance, to the journey of his own life and for the human prospect.

Van der Post is a fascinating person in his own right: a soldier, traveler and much admired writer and filmmaker. But as a white South African who was repelled by racism, and a soldier dismayed by war, he had a lonely time of it. In this book he writes movingly about Richard Wilhelm, the westerner who re-discovered and translated the I Ching. For this service Wilhelm was generally treated as a madman, and apparently began to wonder if perhaps he was, until Jung took up his cause, collaborated with him, and befriended him. There's a clear sense here that Jung did something similar for van der Post. Just as Jung recognized kindred spirits in Wilhelm and this traveler who spent months each year traveling among tribal peoples in remote areas of Africa, finding his heart of enlightenment, they found in Jung a philosophical paterfamilias, beacon of hope and genius of their times.

Van der Post considers Jung one of the most important religious thinkers of the century, as well as a great healer. He praises Jung's insights in practical terms as well. He finds in Jung's psychological concepts the keys to communication across differences, and ultimately to the end of war. He quotes Anatole France: "Human beings are forever killing each other over words, whereas if they had only understood what the words were trying to say, they would have embraced each other." Van der Post adds, " After Jung's Psychological Types, I am convinced, we no longer have any valid excuse for not realizing that we are all ultimately trying to say the same things and express the same longings in terms of our own unique natures." Together with Jung's theories of the unconscious---of its methods and manifestations, and of the balances necessary between conscious and unconscious-humanity had the tools to match the sophistication of self-understanding to the power of its deadly machines...even to emerge from this period of what Jung called our "technological savagery."

Once when Jung seemed disconsolate, van der Post tried to convince him of all this. But in a letter soon afterwards Jung told him, "I am an increasingly lonely old man writing for other lonely men."

Recently I found at the Humboldt University Library several videotaped documentaries about Jung (including the one van der Post did for the BBC, with the eerie moment that Post is in Jung's house, describing that at the moment of his death there was a peal of thunder . And as he says this, there is a peal of thunder. Not dubbed in later. ) Several of them used parts of a series of taped interviews with Jung done by Richard Evans of the University of Houston. HSU also had the programs originally edited from these interviews. Their transcripts were published in a handy little Insight paperback; mine is a 1964 edition in great shape (printed on better paper than the van der Post.)

These interviews reveal other aspects of Jung that van der Post and others write about: his warmth, his humanity, maybe a little of his temper, and certainly his humor.

One of the documentary series' using the interviews is called "The Wisdom of the Dream," made in the late 1980s for England's Channel Four. Psychologist Merrill Berger and TV producer Stephen Segaller who created the programs also co-authored a book based on them, published in paperback by TV Books in 2000. (In a postscript, we learn they're a married couple.) Though it has the earmarks of the TV series in repetitions and fragmentation, it works remarkably well on its own. It allows for more detailed and sensitive exploration of Jung's work and its significance, and especially for more extended quotes from the people interviewed---including many of the last people then still alive who worked with Jung himself (he died in 1962) and some of Jung's children and grandchildren.

One anecdote reminded me of something I said to a class of mostly nurses taking an evening literature course many years ago---I was subbing for their regular instructor. Somehow I got to talking about words and the physical world. "Impacted" was a big word then, and I guess still is. Something is always impacting on something. But that's not always what's really meant. Impact means to hit hard, like the impact of one car smashing into another. But what's meant sometimes is closer to the word "influence." Influence is fluid, it has to do with flow: it's right there in the word.

So here is something one of Jung's grandsons remembers from a day on the lakeside, where rivulets were combining to flow into the lake:
"In the main stream it was cloudy. There something had been moved. And then a tributary came, very fresh and clean water. We saw that picture of this pure and limpid water going into the cloudy one and it made a special kind of design. And then I said to him 'Look at this interesting phenomenon' and then he looked and he said 'Yes. That is influence.'"

Today Jung's influence is considerable, though his impact may not be so obvious. The practice of psychology has embraced a new kind of mechanistic approach that mirrors behaviorism in that it sees the psyche as meaningless: namely matching the drug to the diagnosis. No more talk! Why try to understand the psyche when you can just take a pill to make it behave efficiently? Gene therapy and other interventions are just around the corner. That many in the field and in general can't figure out that you can have better drugs without negating the need for a better understanding of yourself, that you don't have to choose one or the other, that you can have gene therapy and use the tools and skills of Jungian analysis, as well as meditation, etc.---it all just proves Jung's point, that until we acknowledge the reality of the psyche and the conflicts within it, we're doomed to lurch back and forth from one one-sidedness to another, in perpetual dizzy stupidity.

On the other hand, Jung's influence is everywhere, from the cheesiest self-help books to the most complex attempts to reconcile and unify new and old knowledge-quantum physics, chaos theory, ecology, spirituality, neuroscience, myth, evolution...all that stuff. It's in Thomas More and his Soul books, Robert Johnson's little volumes, and it used to be on TV every week via Northern Exposure and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I hope this influence grows fast enough. I don't know if his ideas are a way to universal peace. But I'm pretty sure the conceptual tools he provides, and the skills to use them, are likely to be essential if humanity is to have a civilized future.

Berger and Segaller pretty much agree with van der Post on the meaning and significance of Jung's work: "In Jung's life, the buried treasure was the human soul, was the deeper dimension of the unconscious which could be united with the conscious life and thus help to make a person whole."

I have most of Jung's actual work yet to read, and read again. (Reading it again is another opportunity to learn what I missed. For example, a feature of extraversion jumped out at me the most recent time I saw a certain passage---that extraverts "definitely are more influenced by their surroundings than by their own intentions." Of course! Since--as other researchers maintain--some 75% of the American population are extraverts, this explains a lot. For instance why people are taking polls all the time to see what they think.)

Several memoirs (Barbara Hannah's for example) and books on Jung's psychology (Anthony Storr's) also await. Van der Post recommends Jung's letters. But I think the next volume I'll peruse is Gerhard Wehr's biography of Jung-a chronological view from the outside, just for the perspective. Knowing that it's only one kind of context, and not the most important. Not the heart of Jung.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Darwin's Blog Spot

Asked to name the most important scientist of the twentieth century, most people would probably say Einstein, and physics would be the popular choice for the most influential of the sciences. But a case can be made that the most important and influential scientist of the twentieth century was the most important and influential scientist of the nineteenth century: Charles Darwin.

While 20th century science and its technology certainly changed the world in many respects, there is something to the point of view expressed by J.B. Priestly in Literature and Western Man: "The nineteenth century produced the ideas that, after some modifying and vulgarizing, our own [20th] century has transformed into action and history."

And while it is likely that the greatest impact of quantum physics and the chaos and complexity and other theories it helped spawn is yet to come in this century, so far it is impressive how dominant Darwin remains in the early 21st century. Perhaps part of the reason is that few people profess to understand relativity and quantum mechanics, while almost everyone thinks they understand Darwin's theory of "evolution"---even though they disagree greatly on what it is. And that's even before they start arguing about whether it is true or scandalously wrong.

Darwin reverberates through politics and society, and remains a hot button issue in wars of religion. His theories were almost immediately and erroneously used to justify eugenics and predatory capitalism in the 19th century, and common misunderstandings and misapplications of Darwin's theory of natural selection and the consequent meanings of evolution have become part of the conventional wisdom.

The issues are many and complex, but they are also basic to how we see ourselves, our world and our future. Many books in many fields touch upon these issues, and there are many that deal more directly with Darwin's theories, their "evolution" and their ramifications. A few of the ones I'd recommend are Robert Wright's Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Pantheon) and his earlier, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are (Vintage) which is explicitly a foray into the new field of evolutionary psychology. For a witty analysis of Darwinism's internal logic and faulty reductionism, nobody can beat Mary Midgley and her newly revised Evolution As A Religion (Routledge.) Her quarrel is mostly with Darwinists rather than Darwin---in fact she dedicates the book " To The Memory of Charles Darwin, who did not say these things."

I have a small stack of other books in the field I've dipped into---some I intend to look at more intently, others seem more problematic, but I am very pleased to be able to say that I have just read the one I've been looking for, that both surveys the essential issues that have concerned and confused me, and adds new evidence from an overlooked area of evolutionary biology---an overlooked area, in fact, of life.

This admirable, essential book is Darwin's Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection by Frank Ryan, published in 2002 by Houghton Mifflin. There are two interlocking areas of contention regarding Darwin these days: in the public sphere, where it involves ethics, religion, and our general understanding of life; and among biologists testing and debating Darwin's theories against new discoveries (especially in genetics) as well as new experimental tests of those theories (thanks to more precise technologies, for instance.) This book surveys both areas with a clarity, transparency and generosity I haven't seen anywhere else. The early chapters of this book comprise simply the best description of what's been going on in both spheres from Darwin's time right into the 21st century.

But it is not just a survey: there's a definite argument here, a point of view, and a number of assertions and judgments. Ryan says what has been recognized as proven, and what he thinks has been proven, though others may disagree. His analysis of the history, though, is itself so cogent, and says so well what I've gathered from my own reading, that I tend to confer the presumption of credibility about the newer research . In any case, he's quite generous in naming other sources, so once again, this book is a great resource.

Much of the rest of the book is about those overlooked areas of life, namely bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They are often implicated in a phenomenon that biologists ignored even in better known creatures: symbiosis. It was ignored partly because Darwin's theories were shaped both for biologists and for the world at large by the prevailing politics of predatory capitalism and the cult of every man for himself. They combined to deny such observable realities as, for example, the fact that almost all trees cannot live without the fungi that clings to their roots.

Research into how symbiotic organisms can transfer or engage genes is also providing evidence for theories that explain the origin of species (which, oddly enough, Darwin could not explain in The Origin of Species)-that is, not change within a species (which natural selection does explain) but changing into a different species.

I also got the impression that another reason today's theorists of evolution ignore viruses and bacteria is that they are beneath them. They're bugs; they cause diseases. They aren't to be studied, just eradicated. The bigger animals were fashionable in the 19th century; now it's the genome. But if Ryan is right, they hold the key to explaining as well as linking both the other ends of this chain.

Ryan spins this out like a mystery, involving lots of detectives. They include well-known names of the past and present, and some obscure figures that emerge as unsung heroes. In the process Ryan creates context. For example, a lot of people have heard of the concept of Gaia, and many may have heard the names of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis associated with it. But usually it's either in the context of Earth Day evocations or the neo-Darwinists' dark mutterings of unscientific heresy and New Age babble. But Ryan describes the actual scientific achievements (and misses) of Lovelock and Margulis in historical context. We get a sense of their personalities, and the politics of evolutionary science.

I think I would be grateful for this book even if it hadn't suddenly appeared in my view just after I had ventured to say in print that the study of altruism, a sticky point in evolutionary theory and a matter of raging controversy today, might find some biological basis in the study of symbiosis. I made that suggestion as a provocation, because it was just an idea I had. (I do know of other scientific arguments in support of an evolutionary role for altruism.) It made sense to me intuitively, as I mused over such phenomena as biomimicry, animal learning and communication, animal use of medicines, and human learning of those medicines from animals, as well as a range of other intraspecies and interspecies learning and communication.

Nobody reacted to that provocation, not to me directly. Yet a few days later there was Ryan's book, where it really shouldn't have been: a 2002 book among a bookstore section of new books published five or more months later. Ryan comes at the subject from completely different places, and while some of his descriptions of symbiosis support my intuition, I've learned to think about the link in a more complicated way.

But even without this impetus, I think I would have found this book accessible and absorbing. If you going to read just one book on the state of evolutionary theory, I'd say start here.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Reading Einstein

I recently reviewed Thomas Levenson's Einstein in Berlin (Bantam) in the San Francisco Chronicle---in fact, right here. I was asked to do this review, as opposed to suggesting the book myself, though if I had known about it I might well have asked to do it. I've been fascinated by Einstein, and recently had been dipping into a selection of his own non-scientific essays, called Ideas and Opinions. But I don't write reviews for myself. I write them for readers of the Chronicle, and specifically readers who might be interested in reading the book I'm reviewing.

Of course I can't know who they are, but I can make educated guesses. Who would be interested in a book on Einstein? First of all, I guessed, readers interested in physics and the history of twentieth century science. Because Einstein was and remains famous as a pacifist, there would be readers interested in that aspect, particularly in this time of fresh debate and heartache over issues of war and peace. And there would be people tempted just by the magic of Einstein's name, his image as the model of scientific genius, his celebrity status. Just a few years ago, Time Magazine picked him as the most influential figure of the twentieth century. He's the kind of known name with a little known life that probably attracts readers who simply like reading biographies. These days, there are lots of those people; biographies are high on the list of the most popular nonfiction books.

So I tried to answer questions each of these "readers" might have, as well as answer one of my own---a question that had occurred to me recently: how did Einstein reconcile his pacifism with his letter to FDR that, history says, strongly suggested that the U.S. develop an atomic bomb before Germany did?

For readers of biography and people specifically interested in Einstein, I wrote that this wasn't actually a biography. It was limited to Einstein's years in Berlin, from just before World War I until just before World War II. And at least half of the book was about Berlin in those years, and the various figures that dominated German history, politics, and the arts as well as science---including following Adolf Hitler from his years as a low-ranking, generally enthusiastic and incredibly lucky soldier in World War I. Readers interested in physics and the history of science would find that those topics were treated with economy and precision.

I tried to answer my own question, even though (as I wrote) it wasn't one that Levenson ever asked. The bare facts of it are partly in his book, and partly in another book I read as I was preparing this review, called Einstein in America by Jamie Sayen (Crown, 1985). I liked the Sayen book very much, and it was a delightful companion to Levenson's. They were very interesting to read one after the other.

Though Einstein was pretty much out of the loop on atomic research by the late 1930s, there were few physicists who believed an atomic bomb was possible or practical. Some didn't believe it until Hiroshima. Einstein had already escaped Germany and was vacationing on Long Island in the summer of 1939 when his old friend, Leo Szilard, told him of his own research which suggested that a chain reaction was possible. Einstein immediately realized what this meant, and the two discussed what to do. At a second meeting, Einstein dictated a letter to President Roosevelt, which Szilard rewrote, and possibly others worked on, but that Einstein signed. It warned that an atomic bomb might be possible and that German scientists appeared to be working along lines that would lead them to that conclusion as well. He noted that Germany had stopped the export of uranium from Czechoslovakian mines. He requested that the U.S. government "establish contact with the scientists working on nuclear physics, and that it help subsidize research and the procurement of uranium," Sayen writes.

President Roosevelt responded to this letter by appointing a team to study the matter, and they quickly recommended the actions suggested in the letter, but did little more after that . Szilard got Einstein to write a second letter in 1940 "designed to rekindle Roosevelt's interest in uranium research" and to suggest that the results of the research of Szilard and others be kept secret.

There's an interesting sidelight here, that appears in none of these books, but which I ran across in reading about H.G. Wells for my "Soul of the Future/of Star Trek" projects. Wells is credited with being the first to foresee the possibility of atomic bombs, in his 1913 novel, The World Set Free. It remains one of the more astonishing acts of prophecy in imaginative fiction.

By the 1940s so many science fiction writers were exploding atomic bombs in their stories that pulp magazine editors were complaining, and as real thing got nearer but was still a secret project, the U.S. government was knocking on their doors. But Wells had anticipated the first attempts to figure out if such a device was practicable by about thirty years. When he wrote about it, the atomic bomb didn't even yet have a name. Wells named it. Even dropping a bomb-any kind of bomb-from an airplane was a new idea, and it would be only a small factor in World War I, which had not yet begun. Science didn't even yet have a generally accepted rough sketch of the atom. The Rutherford-Bohr model-the atom as a miniature solar system that was still be drawn on the blackboard when I was in high school-didn't exist yet.

All that had happened was the discovery of radioactivity and radium. Wells apparently understood more of the implications of Einstein's E=mc2 formula, announced in 1905, than did many scientists. But from these and a few other bare beginnings, he made a series of astonishingly accurate surmises in his fictional history of the past that hadn't happened yet. For example, that the neutron would be the trigger of an explosive reaction (discovered in 1932), and the existence of twin atoms, or isotopes (the actual discoverer of that got the Nobel Prize in 1921.)

He speculated on the properties of a substance yet to be discovered that he called carolinium. It turned out to be plutonium. He also nailed the year of a preliminary discovery. In his future history, artificial radioactivity is produced for the first time in 1933. It was.

Wells also got a lot of things wrong, but he did dramatize an atomic war, and that caught the attention of Leo Szilard, who happened to read Wells novel in 1932. It impressed him, even though he wasn't yet working on nuclear physics. But by 1939 he was, and once he suddenly realized how to set up a nuclear chain reaction, he thought at once that it must be kept secret. He knew what this discovery could mean---"and I knew it because I had read H.G. Wells," he said.

So Szilard prevailed on Einstein to suggest keeping the research secret. He did, and it was. (And a decade after reading Wells, Szilard was working with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago where they created the first nuclear chain reaction.) But that turns out to probably be the extent of Einstein's influence and involvement in decisions concerning the atomic bomb.

Even after Einstein's second letter, the U.S. government, still officially neutral, kept uranium research limited. Then in the fall of 1941 a report by British scientists concluded that atomic weapons could very well be created and used in the current war. This report was shown to Vannevar Bush, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, who passed it on. "It was this information, not Einstein's two letters," Sayen writes," which inspired the United State government to make a full commitment to the development of atomic weapons by the creation of the Manhattan Project on December 6, 1941."

Einstein of course was so worried about Nazi Germany developing and using atomic bombs that he hoped the U.S. could counter that threat with its own bombs. Einstein knew what American and British leaders either didn't know or didn't care to dwell on-that in addition to conquering Europe, the Nazis were rounding up and killing Jews (including members of his own family.) Though Einstein's reasons for recognizing the Nazis as a powerful evil that had to be opposed by force may seem self-evident, Levenson's portraits of Germany provides the weight of evidence that Einstein saw during his years there.

After Germany was defeated, Einstein wrote a third letter to President Roosevelt, again at the passionate instigation of Leo Szilard. It was an introduction to a longer letter by Szilard, that Einstein felt he could not read because he didn't have Szilard's security clearance. The substance of Szilard's document however was a warning (possibly inspired by Wells?) of a nuclear arms race, particularly if the U.S. used the atomic bomb on Japan. Roosevelt died shortly after the letter was delivered, and the efforts of Szilard and other nuclear physicists to persuade the Truman administration not to drop the atomic bomb on Japanese cities were apparently never taken very seriously.

"Einstein never wavered in his conviction that use of atomic weapons on Japan was morally unjustifiable," Sayen concludes. "Although Einstein never forgave the German people for their acquiescence to the Nazi slaughter of Jews, he would never have endorsed the use of atomic bombs on Germany once it became known that the German atomic bomb project had failed. The bomb was a defensive weapon and no amount of Germany barbarity could justify American barbarity when the danger of a similar German bomb was removed."

Another sidelight to the reviewing process: there was another biographically-based book on Einstein that came out around the same time as the Levenson book, and I got a copy so I might review the two together. But I found I had little constructive to say about Einstein: The Passions of a Scientist by Barry Parker (Prometheus Books), except that its treatment of Einstein is chronological (whereas Levenson skips around a bit, which caused me some confusion). I was searching for a delicate way to say that since it's so short and the writing so simple, it could be used as a kind of Cliff's Notes chronology, so the reader could keep events that Levenson describes in the proper order. It was in fact useful to me for this purpose, but such faint praise didn't assume enough priority to make it into the final 800 words. Otherwise I found the Parker book no fun to read at all, with its deadened short sentences and graceless vocabulary.

It does have pictures, though, which Levenson's book oddly lacks. It's especially strange considering that Levenson is a TV producer, and his "Nova" treatment of Einstein is quite visual (the animation of Einstein's thought experiments leading to his physics insights were particularly useful to me.) In his book, he describes several photographs, and the architecture of a building named after Einstein. But no photos in the book. Perhaps that's a separate project.

Postscript: By Kowincidence, the Einstein Papers---his scientific and non-scientific writings and a lot more---have just been made available online at this site.