Jungian therapy, dream interpretation and biology: Max McDowell

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Jungian therapy, dream interpretation and biology

Maxson J. McDowell

A version of this article
was originally published in Quadrant: Journal of the C.
G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology,
Vol. 29,
1. Copyright: C. G. Jung Foundation for Analytical
Psychology, Inc., 1999. All rights reserved.

Maxson McDowell PhD, LMSW, LP is a
analyst with offices in Greenwich Village and the Upper West
Side, New York. He also
works with couples and runs two on-going therapy groups.

Return to Jungian therapy, dream interpretation, and autism

What is analysis?

How can it help?

Why Jungian

How does it relate to

I address all these questions in the article
that follows.

(Matisse: Casbah

In a previous career I was an experimental scientist
in molecular biology; now I am a Jungian analyst. As an
analyst I sense that there are non-rational forces at work.
I encounter numinous images and I find that the psyche has
its own goals which are independent of mine. But as a
biologist I seek rational explanations. My two points of
view, that of a biologist and that of an analyst, are in
conflict. The conflict has led to this paper. (Medieval,
Catalan: "Nativity")

I argue that relatedness is a central goal of
individuation. In brief, to relate is to engage consciously
with the other. The other is found both in the outer
world and in the inner world of the psyche. To relate in
depth we must be open to that part of the other which is

Archetypes and Inheritance

A dream sometimes alludes to a story that is also
told in mythology. When my patient "Ruth" dreamt that she
was abducted to a basement by a dark man, her dream seemed
to allude to the myth of Persephone:

was a young woman. While she was picking flowers in a field,
she was seized by Hades and taken to the underworld. Her
mother, Demeter, was grief-stricken and enraged. She made
the land barren. A deal was struck amongst the gods. For six
months of the year Persephone was Hades' bride, Queen of the
Underworld. For the other six months she was allowed to
rejoin her mother. Whenever Persephone was with her, Demeter
made the land fertile again. This is why we have summer and
winter. (Gaugin: "Breton Landscape")

Ruth's dream only hinted at a story, while
the myth elaborates the story and suggests a resolution.

Ruth's dream and the myth are somehow related.
Moreover similar myths have arisen independently in other
cultures. For example there is a Polynesian myth that
retells the story of Persephone:

On a coral island, a young woman,
Hina-moe-atu (Hina-sleeping-with-a-god) was bathing in a
fresh-water pool beneath a cliff. A huge eel came to her
from beneath the rocks, went sliding under her vulva, and
gave her pleasure with its tail. The same thing happened
many times. Then, while Hina was gazing at it, the eel
became a handsome young island man. Many times he came with
her to her house and they made love. Then he told her he
would have to leave her forever and instructed her what to
do. There were torrential rains and the water rose to the
threshold of her house. The eel came and laid its head in
her doorway. She cut of its head with the sacred adze of her
ancestor and buried it behind her house. Then she visited
that place every day to see what would happen. In time a
firm green shoot appeared, and from it grew two coconut
palms. The coconut palm provides food and many raw materials
for the economy of the island, and this is how it was

There is no summer and winter on a coral

The myths of Persephone and Hina-moe-atu seem to
describe a process of maturation. A woman is drawn into her
instinctual life by a phallic power. Then she sacrifices and
thereby transforms some of her instinctuality. The result is
new psychological growth. This is represented in the myths
as the renewed fertility of the land.

Over the centuries the myth of Persephone has been
worked out to completion and stripped of extraneous detail.
The narrative has been tested and found "true" by many
tellers and many listeners. But Ruth is an individual. An
amplification or an interpretation may be "true" in general,
but "wrong" for her. Perhaps the timing is wrong, or the
emphasis, or perhaps she and I have misunderstood the dream
altogether. We consider our interpretation of her dream
"true" only if she feels the truth of it, or if it is
confirmed by some spontaneous visceral reaction in her, like
a flush, or tears, or a sudden release of tension.

It seems that Ruth's dream and the two myths must
each have arisen independently from the same source. Jung
called that source an archetype, a psychological
invariant common to each of us because it is inherited
rather than learned. By analogy there are behavioral
invariants, like blushing, or smiling, or crying, which are
common to each of us because they are inherited rather than
learned. (We modify them by learning.)

The pantheon of Gods in a religion represents, in
psychological terms, a series of archetypes. Demeter,
Persephone and Hades are examples. Jung said that archetypes
make up a great part of the unconscious. This he called the
collective unconscious, to distinguish it from the
personal unconscious (Jung 1921). My personal
unconscious is made up of contents which might well be
conscious, but which I have forgotten or repressed in my
individual life. Thus my repressed envy of my friend lies in
my personal unconscious, while the archetype behind
Persephone lies in the collective unconscious. Jung argued
that each archetype gives rise to characteristic images and

It seems difficult to account for the inheritance of
archetypes in rational terms. To explain what I mean I must
digress into biology. Although inheritance is based upon
genes, the total number of different genes in my chromosomes
is limited. Recent research has shown that a person has only
about twenty times as many genes as a bacterium: I have less
than 100,000 and a bacterium has between 3,000 and 5,000
(Alberts et. al., 1994). But my structure is astronomically
more complex (Tresan, 1996b). The small number of my genes
must mean that genetic information cannot function as a
blueprint. While the structure of a building is specified in
detail in its blueprint, I do not have enough genes to
specify my structure in this manner. In fact most genes
specify processes rather than structures; most genes code
for enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions within the
cell. It follows that these chemical reactions, which are
relatively few in number, must absorb information in a
controlled manner from their environment in order to create
my final structure.

An analogy will help to explain what I mean. A recipe
specifies how to bake bread. But the recipe itself contains
only a few pieces of explicit information. The recipe may
say nothing about the final three-dimensional reality of the
loaf, its shape, texture, color, aroma, and taste. The
success of the bread depends upon its ability to absorb
information in a controlled manner from the environment. The
baker's actions, the oven, the pan, the humidity, the
barometric pressure, and the chemical and physical
properties of the ingredients all contribute information
that helps to determine the final form of the loaf. In this
analogy the recipe corresponds to the genetic information,
while the baker's actions and the oven contribute
environmental information. The point is that while genes
cannot function as a blueprint they do function as a recipe.
In technical terms, we know that a gene functions as an
alogorithm (Elman et. al. 1988). An alogorithm is a

My argument is supported by much experimental
research. For example, rats were reared in an environment
enriched with playthings and opportunities to explore, while
a control group was reared in an impoverished environment.
It was found that an "enriched" rat's cerebral cortex was
thicker, had a higher metabolic rate, and had more
higher-order dendritic branches. (Greenough, 1976). Recent
experiments have shown that in vertebrates, while the visual
and somatosensory regions of the cerebral cortex are

central neurons wait for
information from the periphery [i.e. from the environment]
in order for normal development to go forward. If the
messages change, a different brain organization results
(Gazzaniga, 1992).

From this digression it seems obvious that I could
not inherit an archetypal image or story, as such, in my
genes. In computers an image takes up a great deal of
storage space. My storage system for genetic information is
much too small. Jung himself argued that we do not inherit
an image, but an archetypal tendency to form an image. He
said that the tendency was activated by the environment and
that the specific image was derived from the environment
(Jung 1936a; 1938/54).

According to Jung:

The archetypes are the
unconscious images of the instincts. ... [An archetype] is
not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an
inherited mode of functioning, corresponding to the inborn
way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds
its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion
of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas.
In other words it is a "pattern of [instinctual] behavior"
(Jung, 1936b; 1933). (Rousseau: "Flamingoes")

Animal studies have shown that instincts are inherited
through the genes.

Both in an animal and in a person, instinct is the
source of drives such as sexuality, hunger, and aggression.
In an animal, but to a much lesser degree in a person,
instinct also specifies complicated behaviors like those
described above by Jung. A person's behavior differs from
animal behavior in that it is more influenced by learning
and less specified by instinct. (I use the term "instinct"
in the broad sense to mean any inherited behavioral

The following illustrates how an animal's instinct is
linked to an image. As soon as a gosling hatches, it is
driven by instinct to follow its mother. But it lacks an
internal image of its mother. If I honk like a goose and
crouch low enough, then the newly-hatched gosling imprints
an image of me in its brain to represent mother.
Henceforward, if I crouch and honk, it will follow me. It
will not follow a goose (Lorenz, 1970). The gosling has
inherited the instinct to follow its mother, but it has
taken the image of mother from its environment.

Similar mechanisms must operate in each of us (Stern,
1977), though at a higher level of complexity. This suggests
how the myth of Persephone or of Hina-moe-atu is
"inherited." Every girl in every culture inherits a sexual
instinct. Consequently she is attracted to and perhaps
fearful of a man (if she is lesbian, a woman) who is usually
a stranger. She in turn attracts him. With him she explores
her feelings and is drawn away from her family. As she
learns to discriminate these feelings she develops
psychologically. Thus the girl's instinctual predicament,
which is universal, suggests the story of Persephone. She
seems to inherit not the story per se but "the facts
of life" which suggest the story.

She must also inherit her imaginative capacity or,
more accurately, the potential to develop it. It seems that
her imagination recreates the story of Persephone in
response to both inherited and environmental directions. As
I have already explained, her physical body is formed by an
analogous process in response to both inherited and
environmental directions.

It seems that any archetypal image could be created
by the mechanism I have described. I inherit the potential
to acquire knowledge and insight. I see my potential
embodied in another man who is older than me. Hence I form
the archetypal image of the wise old man. I inherit the
potential to leave my parents, but also the potential to
regress, to go back home. I repress my desire to go back and
project it onto my mother: it is her desire to take me back.
Hence I develop the archetypal image of the battle with a
devouring monster. I inherit the potential to be related but
project this potential onto a young woman. Hence I develop
the archetypal image of the anima. I inherit the
potential to unify my personality more in the second half of
my life, the potential to develop a relationship between my
conscious ego and the archetypes. Hence I form an archetypal
image of the self. I will say more later about the
anima and the self.

Tresan (1996c) also suggested that each of us may
create anew our own archetypal image:

The enormous capacities of ...
each brain are capable of creating de nouveau any known
archetypal pattern through self-organization and without the
need for an invocation of the a priori

But Tresan did not explain how this might be
accomplished. I argue that the inherited instinct is the
a priori from which an archetypal image organizes

If it is simply the instinct which is inherited then
there is no need to postulate an inherited "archetype as
such". This point seems to lie at the heart of Pietikainen's
(1998b) recent criticism of Jungian theory:

[The]'principle of parsimony'
supports simplicity in the construction of theories: ...
entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. ... I do
not doubt that some of the most basic conditions of our
historical existence are defined a priori by our biological
constitution. ... What I do question is the totally
speculative notion of the inheritance of archetypal

Ruth's dream of being taken to a basement may help
her to resolve an objective, i.e. outer-life, problem. If
she is young and struggling to separate from her mother, or
if she is an adult whose passionate feelings are repressed,
then the dream may guide her towards a deeper relationship
with a man.

But the dream might also refer to a subjective,
inner-life problem. Ruth may be blocked in her own creative
work. Perhaps she feels sterile, or perhaps she lacks the
necessary discrimination and assertion. Discrimination can
be represented by a sword or a knife and assertion by a
club. Since these are phallic symbols, discrimination and
assertion are phallic powers. Hades would then represent her
own inner phallic potential. Then the dream might help her
to relate more consciously to that potential, so that her
creative work could flourish. Such inner developments are
intangible and difficult to understand. The dream solves
this problem by using a familiar outer-life story (a girl's
deepening connection to a man) as a metaphor. Often, in a
dream, the outer and inner levels of meaning both apply.
(Picasso: "Jaqueline")

Why are Archetypal Images Numinous?

Demeter, Persephone, and Hades were gods. To the
ancient Greeks who worshiped them they were numinous,
which means they evoked awe, or fear and wonder (Otto,
1936). Like the Greeks, my patients sometimes dream of a
figure which is highly charged and mysterious. For example
"George" dreamt:

A bizarre animal, a hawk with a
big wolf's head, flew towards me, landed on my hand, and
looked at me. It was full of power. It was like a freight
train rushing towards me.

George was shocked by the wolf-hawk. He reacted with
fear and wonder, just as the Greeks reacted to visitations
by their gods. When I call George's image numinous, I am not
making an irrational statement of faith. Rather I am using a
psychological term for an empirical observation which has a
long history.

The Greeks made sacrifices in part to distinguish
their gods from themselves. This helped them to avoid
hubris. Hubris meant taking upon themselves god-like
powers, like flying too close to the sun, which would swamp
their personal identity. In modern terms, when I face an
archetype I am in danger of assigning to myself archetypal
powers, of feeling larger than life. In order to avoid this
inflation, or hubris, I must distinguish between my own
personal qualities and those of the archetype. I must relate
to an archetype rather than fuse with it (Jung 1928/35). I
will come back to this problem when I discuss

What does it mean that a dream figure is numinous?
Why, in most dreams, are the figures not numinous? Dreams
seem to be messages from the unconscious. Usually a figure
in a dream brings me information from the personal
unconscious, that is, knowledge that my conscious mind can
readily encompass. In that case the figure seems mundane.
Often it is someone I know, or reminds me of someone I know.
Then the quality which I associate with that person is the
message. If I dream of my uncle Bill and I associate Bill
with penny-pinching, then my dream suggests that I am
penny-pinching somewhere in my present life. A numinous
figure, however, does not remind me of anyone I know
personally. Often I cannot make out its features because its
face is obscured or strangely illuminated. (This is the
psychological basis for the halo.) When I analyze such a
figure I find that I cannot fully grasp it. Although George
came to understand some of the meaning of his wolf-hawk, it
remained mysterious. By its very design, a chimera (two
animals in one) is an image of that which is
incomprehensible. (Rousseau: "Sleeping Gypsy")

Why is an archetypal image numinous? Can there be a
rational explanation? I argue that the collective
unconscious is made up of inherited instincts and the images
derived from them. As such it is archaic and enduring. It
must always have been present in humans and in their hominid
ancestors. In fact, since all animals have instincts it is
as old, in some form, as the nervous system itself (Jung
1956). It is not changed by my individual history; in each
of us it is the same. My conscious personality, however, my
sense of "I", is transitory. It is born in my early
childhood and dies when I die. It is unique, being the sum
of my own individual experience. Thus my consciousness is
only a temporary epiphenomenon of the timeless unconscious.
It is like a mushroom which appears only briefly
aboveground. A mushroom is born out of the mycelium, the
main mass of the fungus, which persists indefinitely

It seems to follow that my conscious mind cannot
encompass the unconscious, any more than a hailstone can
encompass the weather. I can speculate about it, or sketch
it in intellectually, but I cannot know it. In terms of
subjective experience, an intellectual sketch is not the
same as knowing. I may describe the universe and its
galaxies mathematically, but it remains an awe-inspiring
mystery to me. Thus when a figure in my dream represents an
archetype it represents something from another realm, like
the realm of the fairies in Celtic myth. Its numinosity may
be my subjective experience of the incomprehensibility of
the archetype, my way of representing that
incomprehensibility within consciousness1.

Certainly a young child, to whom his or her parents
are incomprehensible, experiences them as numinous
(Whitmont, 1991b). I sometimes say of an extraordinary
person that he or she "seems larger than life," or "seems to
glow in the dark." Jung (1956) himself suggested that an
archetypal image seems numinous to us because of the
overwhelming importance of the instinct that it

Behind the mystery I have described there is perhaps
an ultimate mystery. But psychology does not deal with the

Psychology can only approach the
subject from the phenomenological angle, for the realities
of faith lie outside the realm of psychology (Jung

If I were to use religious language, I would say that
an archetype is a force of nature and that nature, which is
God's creation, is itself a numinous mystery.

The Purposeful Psyche

When I work with dreams the unconscious seems to have
a goal in mind. Current dreams address current problems.
Dreams are forever correcting a one-sided view and
suggesting how the dreamer might proceed. Ruth's dream, for
example, hinted that she was living too intellectually and
trying to suppress instinctual needs; perhaps she needed to
go deeper. Throughout Ruth's analysis she and I assumed that
her dreams had purpose and that it was our task to decipher

From a rational point of view this poses a problem.
Whose purpose? If my dreams are messages to me, then who or
what is sending them? Must there be an agent within the
unconscious that has its own point of view, its own plans
which are different from mine (Grotstein, 1998)?

Since my conscious personality is born during my
childhood, it must grow during my lifetime; it must
assimilate new experiences in order to expand its range. In
this regard my conscious personality is like a biological
system. In biology, the principle of self-assembly or
self-organization was clarified by research on the
structure of hemoglobin and the assembly of viruses that
began in the 1940's (Watson et. al., 1987; Wood and
Crowther, 1983).

It is now understood that in any biological system
growth tends to be self-organized. Growth is self-organized,
for example, in a beavers' dam, or a living cell, or a
fetus. On a different time scale Darwinian evolution itself
is self-organized. At the psychological level, a therapy
group matures and becomes productive by a spontaneous
process of self-organization (Yalom, 1975). In each case
self-organization leads spontaneously to an emergent
level of order, a level of order distinct from, and more
complex than, the level that preceded it (Holland, 1998).
Thus sticks become a dam, molecules become a cell, reptiles
become mammals, and individuals become a group.

A self-organized system takes resources from its
environment and integrates them into its own structure.
Growth manifests innate potential rather than a plan. It is
like a new stream finding its way downhill: the stream has a
goal but there is no plan.

It has been shown that beavers do not plan their dam.
Young beavers were reared in isolation from adults, and were
never exposed to a beavers' dam. Nevertheless they built
dams. In one experiment, the young beavers were exposed to
the recorded sound of running water. With this stimulus they
built dams even in a still tank of water (Wilson, 1968,
1971). These experiments show that dam building is the
result not of purposeful action but of instinctive behavior.
(The fact that a beaver can perfect a behavior by observing
a more experienced beaver does not contradict the argument.)
A beaver cuts down trees, digs channels to float the logs
towards the dam, and then places them in a mass, together
with small branches, mud, and whatever other materials it
can find (Ryden, 1989). The dam assembles itself out of
these materials. As it grows, it is guided by its inherent
(a priori) formal or mathematical possibilities. This
concept sounds abstruse but is actually familiar: for
example, how many different ways can you arrange three
match-sticks so that they are contiguous? The dam is also
guided by the constraints of its environment, such as
gravity, water pressure, and the shape of the stream's bank.
Thus it becomes an individual unit that is sensitively
adapted to its environment.

Perhaps it seems eccentric to compare the human
personality to a beaver's dam! But the human personality is
an aggregate of ill-matched parts, a grab-bag, patchwork,
shifting kind of thing. Its construction bears witness to
past injuries and repairs. It is unlike most biological
structures, in that, within a single species, its form
varies extravagantly from one individual to the next. It is
structured, however, according to some invariant principles.
For example, it must function as a unit and it must
accommodate its immediate environment. All of the above is
also true for a beaver's dam. Thus the dam is a model for
the personality.

As my future unfolds, if I am fortunate, things
"click into place," I "find my way." These words suggest
that the way was ahead of me, waiting to be found. It was
innate. In part it was inherited as a recipe in my genes. In
part it was inherent or implicit in the situation (how many
ways can you arrange three sticks so that they are

I think of the following examples from my practice. A
painter discovered in middle age that she loved to write
fiction. A woman who had been a pleaser discovered that she
had a talent for wielding power; she enjoyed her power in
her corporation. An engineer whose education had been mostly
technical discovered that he loved to paint. A man from an
alienated and unhappy family discovered that he loved
children and liked to be with his own family. In each of
these examples the person grew, not according to any plan,
but by stumbling upon his or her own potential.

As I grow I assimilate resources from my environment.
This may be external, the outside world, but it is also
internal. The collective unconscious is the internal
environment from which my consciousness develops. The stages
in the evolution of consciousness out of the collective
unconscious have been described, for example by Whitmont
(1991c). When I am in midlife (somewhere around the age of
40), my conscious personality may be shaken by an encounter
with an archetypal force. If this happens I may, with hard
work, develop a more conscious relationship to the

The Anima

The following vignettes illustrate such an encounter.
(These vignettes are chosen for contrast; I do not mean to
imply that they exhaust the possibilities. The predicament I
describe can have many outcomes.) In middle age "Henry" was
struggling to write creatively. He became fascinated with a
younger woman. Since he loved his wife and children, he was
caught between two opposing desires. He was thrown into
conflict. He could not bear the tension and felt compelled
to end it. Perhaps he repressed his fascination, or perhaps
he abandoned his family. Either way he may have sacrificed
too much and thereby injured himself. He may have understood
his longing for the younger woman in too literal terms.

Or, in the same predicament, Henry did not sacrifice
either side. He continued to suffer both his fascination for
the young woman and his love for his wife and children. He
sensed that his conflict had meaning. He tried to understand
it, but failed. His talents, his past experience, his ego
skills, were not effective. He was at an impasse. Only then,
when consciousness had been defeated, did he listen to the
unconscious. (It seemed to have created the whole
predicament for just that purpose. If there were a viable
course of action he would have ignored the unconscious.)

A vital and mysterious woman appeared in Henry's
dreams. She took many forms. For example:

I was a man like Picasso. I was
with a Spanish woman and there was physical tension between
us. We drank water together at an old stone fountain. We
poured the water from a jug to a cup. It was a ritual with
deep meaning.

Picasso was a highly creative man who was
inspired by a series of mistresses. Water symbolizes the
flow of feeling or creativity. The woman made the water
accessible (the cup) from its impersonal source (the
fountain). Thus the Spanish woman represented the
anima. It was she who made the young woman in Henry's
outer life seem so compelling. Eventually Henry recognized
that he had been projecting an archetype onto a person.

In our culture a girl is conditioned more than a boy
to interact personally. She talks more to other girls. As a
boy Henry tended more towards impersonal activities, like
sports and cars. Consequently, when he was older, the image
of a young woman represented his archetypal potential for
relatedness. She was young because the potential was
new to him.

What do I mean by "relatedness"? If I am to relate to
you then I must be with you and not just adjacent to you. I
must not only talk and not only listen, but both. Depending
on what is called for in the moment, I may feel joy in your
company, or I may oppose you without flinching. My
standpoint must be distinct from yours. I must be conscious,
both of your circumstances and of mine, both of your
feelings and of mine.

Buber (1958) used the term "I-Thou" to describe a
relationship in depth, one which encompasses the mysterious
in self and other. I can relate to you in depth only if I
relate to my own depth, to that part of myself which is
incomprehensible. To relate consciously to the
incomprehensible, I argue, I need a standpoint in the
rational. Otherwise I am fascinated and absorbed by the
incomprehensible, which is not the same as relating to it.
Odysseus had to face Circe with a drawn sword lest he be
turned into a pig. Circe was the incomprehensible anima.
Odysseus's sword represented the discriminating power of
rationality and consciousness.

In the second vignette, as Henry related more to the
inner woman, he began to relate more to others: he became
more engaged with people close to him, and also more engaged
in his creative work. In order to write successfully he had
to relate not only to his own inner reality but also to his
audience's reality. Both personally and creatively, he
incorporated some of his archetypal potential for
relatedness. His conscious personality was thereby


If I am to relate to an archetypal image, I must be
willing to analyze it not only prospectively, for where it
is leading me, but also reductively, for how it relates to
my past. I may have been injured in childhood around that
archetype. I may have repressed grief and longing, or fear
and shame, or perhaps, if the injury was early, archaic
rage. If I fail to analyze the image reductively, then it
becomes an intellectual defense against painful memories and
feelings, a "head trip." Such a defense weakens my sense of
reality and my ability to integrate power and eros (Whitmont
1991d). The following shows how reductive and prospective
analyses work together.

"Jack" was fearful in his adult relationships. We had
analyzed this. He understood that he had been physically
abused in his childhood, but he was still fearful. Jack's
father had not only been abusive; he had also been weak and
absent. Therefore Jack lacked an internal image of masculine
strength. Then he made a painting of a huge man with a
hammer. The image was numinous. He "held it" in
consciousness and analyzed it. It evoked for him not only
his childhood abuse, but also the Norse god Thor who
embodied masculine strength and courage. As he began to
relate to the archetype behind the image he became more
courageous. He became more conscious of his own masculine

The Self

Standing behind each of the archetypes (wise man,
hero, anima, etc) there seems to be a single
all-encompassing archetype. Jung called it the

the sum total of conscious and
unconscious contents ... the wholeness of the personality
which, if all goes well, is harmonious but which cannot
tolerate self-deception (Jung 1938/40; 1961a).

Thus (I argue) the self is the potential for
an emergent, more unified organization of the personality,
one in which the ego and the unconscious are more related to
each other. Because every other archetype leads towards this
central potential, every other archetype is an aspect of it.
In time this potential pushes itself forward, demanding that
it too be integrated.

I may experience the self as an autonomous agent
which confronts me with great authority. The encounter
between the ego and the self is represented in the image of
Abraham and "a smoking brazier and a flaming torch" (The
Revised English Bible, Gen. 15:17). Abraham was faced with
an overwhelming central authority. It made demands on him.
While its power made him feel small, it also gave him a
sense of purpose and value.

My conscious personality is most secure when it feels
in control. But if it encounters the self it finds that it
is only a small part of a larger whole. It is as though I
had discovered that the island on which I lived were not
made of rock, but were the back of a whale.

The whale is the Leviathan. The story of Job
symbolized the struggle between the ego and the self. At
first Job was secure in his righteousness and prosperity.
Then, with God's permission, Satan attacked him. First he
destroyed his family and his property. Then, when Job was

... he afflicted Job with running
sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head,
and Job took a piece of broken pot to scratch himself as he
sat among the ashes (Job 2:7,8).

Job argued bitterly and persistently,
protesting God's injustice. He rejected his comforters'
conventional wisdom:

No doubt you are intelligent

and when you die, wisdom will perish! (12:2)

Eventually God responded. He reacted
defensively to Job's accusations, describing Himself as a
force of nature. He warned Job that He had the brute force
of the crocodile. These verses support my argument that an
archetype is a force of nature and that nature itself is a
numinous mystery:

Where were you when I laid the
earth's foundations?

Tell me, if you know and understand.

Who fixed its dimensions? ... (38:4,5)

Does the rain have a father?

Who sired the drops of dew? (38:28)

Does your skill teach the hawk to use its pinions

and spread its wings towards the south? (39:26)

But consider the chief of beasts, the crocodile,

who devours cattle as if they were grass (40:15):

His nostrils gush forth steam

like a cauldron on a fire fanned to full heat (41:20).

Iron he counts as straw,

And bronze as rotted wood (41:27).

He looks down on all, even the highest;

over all proud beasts he is king (41:34).

Job realized that God had no concern for
justice, so he yielded, keeping his reservations to

... But I have spoken of

which I have not understood,

things too wonderful for me to know (42:3).

Therefore I yield,

repenting in dust and ashes (42:6).

Then God restored his good fortune.

Thus God and Job responded to each other. There was a
back-and-forth quality which was the beginning of
relatedness. Job stood on justice and rationality in the
face of the incomprehensible. Then he recognized God's
limitation. Jung argued that God in turn was transformed by
the encounter: His moral defeat at the hands of Job led
eventually to the birth of Christ, through which God became
more responsive to mankind (Jung, 1952b). All of this
supports my argument that relatedness is a goal of
individuation. I do not refer to Job as a statement of
faith, but to illustrate a psychological phenomenon that has
a long history.

The story of Job suggests that, when the self
approaches, it may injure me until I learn to relate to it.
The following example makes this clear. My patient "Paul"
suffered at times from eczema (like Job), arthritis, and
shortness of breath. When we analyzed them, these proved to
be expressions of narcissistic rage. Beneath his rage was
healthy grandiosity, that is, his need to show and assert
himself (Kohut, 1978), which had been frustrated since
infancy. It seemed that his parents had always withheld
recognition of his accomplishments. In adult life his
symptoms recurred whenever his frustration became acute.
When he became more conscious of his rage, and of his need
to assert himself, his symptoms were relieved. Thus his
somatic symptoms represented his potential to be whole, the
self, struggling to incarnate (Kradin, 1997, Hubback,

Purpose and Dreams

I have described encounters with the anima, with
Thor, and with the self. My point is that my personality has
an innate tendency to integrate new resources from the
unconscious. This is the goal towards which my individuation
is directed. My direction, however, is not always onwards
and upwards. Defeat, loss, decay, and death are also
archetypal. If I am to mature, I have to relate to them.

In time I realize that my maturation is being
directed, but not by me. I cannot choose the goal. Hence I
feel that an independent agent has its own plan for me and
that my dream is composed by that agent to further its

In view of what I have said so far, however, it seems
more likely that my dream is simply a representation of an
unconscious content which has always had the potential to be
integrated. My dream, then, is an unconscious content moving
towards consciousness as a log floats towards a beaver dam.
My emergent "greater personality, the self" (Jung, 1961b),
imposes its agenda, both upon my conscious personality and
upon my dream, as a growing beaver dam imposes its agenda
upon its component parts.

What about the timing of my dream? Why does it appear
just when it is needed? An image may be pushed forward from
the unconscious by an instinctual timetable. Puberty is an
example of such a timetable. Or an image may be evoked from
the collective unconscious by one of the day's events,
perhaps an outside-world event or perhaps a new piece of
self-awareness. That particular image is evoked by
association: it may resemble the event in form or in
meaning, or perhaps the image and the event were associated
in my past experience.

How could my explanation account for the structure of
a dream? A dream is precise and conveys subtle messages. It
may use dramatic structure (Whitmont and Perera, 1989a),
humor, and irony. These qualities, however, are
characteristic of consciousness. It is clear that my dream
must, in its construction, employ the knowledge and language
skills of my ego. After all it may include words in English!
This suggests that a dream is akin to a creative product
like a poem or a painting. Like these, it seems to be
created by a collaboration between my educated mind, working
unconsciously, and the unconscious itself.

Before Darwin the "miraculous" design of a species
seemed to be proof that it was created directly by God. But
Darwin showed that evolution is self-organized. The design
of a species is infinitely more complex than the design of a
dream. I suggest that a dream organizes itself as follows:
Many images are circulating in my sleeping mind, some
pressing forward from the collective unconscious, some left
over from the day (Freud, 1900). They adhere to each other
by associations of form or meaning, making and breaking
associations as they meet with other images. Sometimes they
cohere into a nucleus which is compelling because it
suggests a new insight into my present condition. That
nucleus gathers more images as it crosses the stimulus
barrier and wakes me. Thus it becomes a dream. (Large
molecules and viruses assemble themselves in a living cell
in just this way.)

I interpret a dream by means of a creative process
which must also be self-organized. I collect my patient's
associations to the dream's images. As I do so I endure the
anxiety of not knowing what the dream means (Whitmont and
Perera, 1989b). When I have all the associations, I allow
the meaning to emerge, to cohere spontaneously in my
imagination. If, out of anxiety, I had imposed a
preconceived meaning, then I would have missed some of the
associations and thus falsified my interpretation. As
meanings cohere spontaneously, my intellect eliminates those
that are not viable just as, in evolution, natural selection
eliminates non-viable variations.

Earlier I discussed Ruth's dream of being abducted to
the underworld. I suggested then that she formed this
archetypal image (and all other archetypal images) in her
imagination, by a creative process which drew upon both
inherited and environmental suggestions. In view of what I
have said in the last few paragraphs, it seems clear that
Ruth's archetypal image was self-organized.


The principle of self-organization rules everywhere
in biology, from the assembly of molecules to all higher
levels of order. The same principle may also apply in
psychology. I have explained how an archetypal image may
self-organize. I have also explained how my dream and its
interpretation may self-organize. Finally, the overall
process by which I individuate may self-organize. I have
given some clinical illustrations.

I have not proven that these three explanations are
correct. But the component parts from which they are
constructed, for example the inheritance of instincts, the
dependence of development on information from the
environment, self-assembly, emergence (as I have defined
it), association, and selective awareness during sleep (some
noises wake me and some do not), have all been proven
elsewhere. The three explanations satisfy the law of
parsimony: they are simple and highly economical. Perhaps
they should serve as working hypotheses until they are
proven incorrect.


1I explain when I discuss the self
(in this paper) that an archetype also implies the
possibility of an emergent level of order in the
personality. Like an instinct, such a possibility is a
, or "immortal", and may therefore seem numinous.
I develop the idea of a priori possibility in a
forthcoming paper.

jungian therapy and dream interpretation in New York


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Author's Bio: 

Maxson J. McDowell PhD, LMSW, LP, is a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York City. He is the president of the C. G. Jung Foundation of New York and a faculty member and supervisor at the C. G. Jung Institute of New York, and at the Westchester Institute. Dr. McDowell studied for ten years as a painter in New York with Robert Casper, who studied with Hans Hofmann, a contemporary of Braque and Picasso in the School of Paris. Previously Dr. McDowell was a college professor in biology and, before that, did experimental research in molecular biology at Duke University, M.I.T., and the M.R.C. Laboratories in Cambridge, England.