After several years of observing his patients, Carl Jung noticed there were four basic functions of consciousness. Everyone has these four ways of processing, but some are developed to greater or lesser degrees. The individual’s reliance on, or preference for, these functions is what accounts for the varied ways we humans have of being in the world. Everyone’s childhood environment moulds the development of these functions on an individual basis. There is no correct configuration or use of these functions, just difference. Marie-Louise von Franz summarizes these four psychological functions of consciousness in her book Projection and Re-Collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul (1980). She divides them as follows:
- The sensation function, which ascertains facts, that is, sees, hears, smells, and so on, what is
- Thinking, which brings what has been perceived into logical connection
- Feeling, which evaluates what has been perceived, in the sense of pleasant-unpleasant, to be admitted-to be rejected, better-worse
- Intuition, which represents a kind of faculty of divining and orients us as to whence what has been perceived came and anticipates whither it goes (p. 46)
These four functions can be arranged in the form of a cross. This is called the cross of the understanding. The cross has equidistant arms suggesting we must use all of the functions in a cooperative way. This is perhaps the ideal toward which we strive in the course of our maturation. It is not the way we operate in different stages of our lives. We tend to prefer one way of being on each of the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross.
The vertical dimension is thinking-feeling. The horizontal is sensation-intuition. We slide back and forth on each axis of the cross depending on the situation. If we tend to be in our heads, in the thinking function, we relate ideas according to rational or logical principles. This function accounts for the spinning of the wheel of thoughts, which goes on and on, indefinitely. All ideas are equal, so if we use only the thinking function, we are indecisive. There is no way to judge one course of action over the other. We need some evaluative principle to sort the ideas so that we can choose. This is the feeling function, the heart (the gut), which tells us what we prefer. It is a sorting and proto-moral function. By sliding into the feeling function, down the vertical axis, we discover how we feel about the situation. If it feels bad or dangerous, the thinking function can help us move away from the situation. If it feels good or attractive, we can move toward it.
The horizontal dimension is the sensation function, what is perceived by the senses, and the intuitive function, what we could call the psychic interpretation of the data supplied about the outer world. We all use the sensation function to experience reality. If we rely heavily upon this function, we tend to be kinesthetic and concrete in our orientation. We tend to take things as obviously the way we experience them. If we rely upon the intuitive function, we follow our hunches and orient ourselves toward the symbolic. In order to be a whole person we need to use all four functions. Unfortunately there is a tendency to rely on our strengths and ignore our weaknesses, so we tend to have superior (preferred) functions, usually 3 of the 4, and inferior (neglected) functions. The inferior function is often the most difficult to use as it has not been developed in the course of our growth. It can even tend to drop into the unconscious, where it comes into play rather unexpectedly.
When I first became aware of Jung’s cross of the understanding, I was in my early twenties. I was studying philosophy and religion, languages and economics. My interests reflected my superior functions, thinking (theoretical constructions in economics and philosophy) and intuition (comparative religions and expression). Sensation was important in enjoying nature and especially for skiing and bicycling in Idaho and Utah. My sensation function noticed the physical environment. That is how I met my lover, she was dancing at a fraternity party. Opposites attract. She was heavy on the feeling function, but able to slide into her thinking function, and like me, very intuitive. Sometimes our similarities repelled us, but the opposites pulled us back together again. We were a highly complementary couple and we married.
My thinking function became more and more ascendant as I became a college professor. I was teaching symbolic logic, philosophy, and ethics. As our children were born and I became more and more aware of my one sidedness, I began to read Carl Jung’s works and try to relate psychology to my teaching. My wife thought I was envious of her abilities when I slowly shifted from thinking to feeling. What I realized was that I didn’t know how I felt. She would say “you just don’t know what you want, Michael” and she was correct. My mind was like a super-computer whirring all the time. I had taught her a great deal of philosophy through our discussions. She had amazing, natural intellectual abilities. She was a feeling type, one who prefers dialogue as a learning style. The more variety of people I taught, the more I slowly became more and more open to all the varieties of learning styles. Eventually I left my desk in the center front of the classroom, but opened the seating into a huge semi-circle. I could do this because I transferred my attendance list to individual cards which I could put down on my desk top and see exactly where people were. People who didn’t show up got a mark on their card and placed at the back of the deck. This seating arrangement annoyed the thinking types, who being visual, prefer the traditional arrangement of rows where they can see the black board and copy the notes as the professor writes them down.
Jung also sorted people into their orientation toward the world. Those who turn in toward their subjective inner reality, he called Introverted. Those who turn out toward others, Extroverted. His followers Myers and Briggs created a psychological inventory which added another polarity, Judging (preferring closure) or Perceptive (preferring openness). In the 1960s I preferred the introverted, thinking, intuitive, judging style (INTJ). When I began teaching in the 1970s I had to be more extroverted because I wanted to be successful at a community college. (There was a wide array of learning styles in the Junior College.) Extrovertion helped me to relate to my growing family of four boys and our involvement in sports, theater, and music. Then I noticed my shadow side. It was vindictive and judgmental.
I refused to pass a nursing student, who was sensation oriented, because she could not master the formal structure in the logic course. She brought me a statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis holding Horus, her son, as a way of showing me that she understood things intuitively and symbolically. But that wasn’t the focus of the class. I blocked her professional development and career. But I also felt uneasy, sort of guilty that I had ruined her plans. That’s when I began to be more open and less judgmental. I was shifting towards the extroverted, feeling, and perceptive extremes (ENFP). My wife became suspicious that I was becoming a relativist and was having a nervous breakdown. She was correct.
Jung’s observation of human psychology was that one sidedness becomes excessive and destabilizes the personality. There is a natural process of balancing which takes place. Too much thinking over a life-time can be dangerous to one’s emotional health. Repressing one’s feelings, one’s evaluations of life’s situations, pushes them into the unconscious where they become disconnected from their origins in human experience. Then there is a psychic eruption, usually predicted by one’s dreams, when the repressed affects explode into the conscious personality. All the stuff in my psychic closet began to come out into my family and professional life. Fortunately I found two mentors at the Los Angeles Jung Institute who accompanied me through that very difficult time. When I came out of the underworld, I revised my ethics course, requiring people to give some creative expression of their value system. I made it one-third of their final grade. And I added a book on Native American ethics, religion, and philosophy to the required texts, Seven Arrows (1974) by Hyemeyohsts Storm. My students loved the course, which became one of the most popular ones on campus, a fact which was definitely noticed by others who were jealous of my success.
Such a dramatic shift in one’s consciousness can be difficult to watch as well as experience. My wife began to feel betrayed by this shift. My repressed feelings were more on the surface, and when I was attracted to my students, I would spend time with them and even bring them home to become more a part of our extended family. I recently reconnected with one of those people. He found me on the Internet thirty-five years after visiting my home. Yesterday I received this email expression, ” Seeing you last year was wonderful… made me realize you were placed in my life at a young age for a reason.. I learned much from you as a young man and it’s been with me ever since. [It] was not just the wisdom you shared but the radiant love of your being.” This brings me around to the topic of von Franz’ book, Projection and Re-Collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul.
In order to become conscious of our inner world, we project (unconsciously of course) our inner contents onto an outer object. As a teenager I met an amazing man who radiated love. His name was Father John Cole. The first stage of projection Jung called the archaic identity of the subject and object. This is very common in early childhood when the ego is beginning to develop. We fall in love with another person who has the “hook” to carry the projected qualities which are within ourselves but of which we are not yet conscious. We experience the radiant love as “out there” coming toward me, the subject. That is how I experienced Father Cole. I couldn’t distinguish his love from mine. It felt mutual and perhaps it was, but John was thirty-five and I was eighteen, too big of a difference to act upon. He gifted me with a little book, a copy of Kalil Gibran’s The Prophet and an inscription about moving from unconsciousnes toward the light of consciousness. Then he left for India and I never saw him again.
If we continue to stay in relationship with the beloved object, like we do when we marry her or him, there is a time when we become uneasy with the relationship. We begin to feel the other person isn’t who she said she was and we defend our original perceptions by blaming her. She has been lying, was deceitful, crafty, out of integrity, all the things our shadow side does we attribute to the loved object. After a while it occurs to us that perhaps she hasn’t changed at all, that we were projecting our unconscious contents onto the other person and that we can take those contents back into ourselves. That is the topic of von Franz’ book, how to re-collect the unconscious parts of our psyche. We can integrate the projected (unconscious) contents into our personality. This is what we cannot do if the carrier of the projection leaves the country as John Cole did when he returned to India, or when I left for Northern California. But even in those cases, at some point in the future, we can revisit our infatuation with the magic of the other person and realize that what we were seeing in them is ourself reflected back to us. At that point we feel more whole. It’s like that story Jesus told about the prodigal son, who has returned home and is part of our family again.