Transcendent Function

There is nothing mysterious or metaphysical about the term ‘transcendent function.’  It means a psychological function comparable in its way to a mathematical function of the same name, which is a function of real and imaginary numbers.  The psychological ‘transcendent function’ arises from the union of conscious and unconscious contents.

   ...., the Grail can also be taken as an image of the transcendent function.  By this term Jung understands the psychic synthesis of consciousness and the unconscious, through which it becomes possible for the psychic totality, the Self, to come into consciousness.  This function is therefore also responsible for the continual maturation and transformation of the God-image, the Self, and for this reason can very well appear symbolically as the vessel in which the “soul substance” of the god is preserved.  TGL 157

Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world.  The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals.  Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness.  But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.  Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness.  As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.  It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.    

Experience in analytical psychology has amply shown that the conscious and the unconscious seldom agree as to their contents and their tendencies.  This lack of parallelism is not just accidental or purposeless, but is due to the fact that the unconscious behaves in a compensatory manner towards the unconscious. The reasons for this relationship are: 

1) Consciousness possesses a threshold intensity which its contents must have attained, so that all elements that are too weak remain in the unconscious. 

2) Consciousness, because of its directed functions, exercises an inhibition (which Freud calls censorship) on all incompatible material, with the result that it sinks into the unconscious.

3) Consciousness constitutes the momentary process of adaptation, whereas the unconscious contains not only all the forgotten material of the individual’s own past, but all the inherited behaviour traces constituting the structure of the mind. 

4) The unconscious contains all the fantasy combinations which have not yet attained the threshold intensity, but which in the course of time and under suitable conditions will enter the light of consciousness.    JoAI 43

 “What we are searching for is a way to make conscious those contents which are about to influence our actions, so that the secret interference of the unconscious and its unpleasant consequences can be avoided.”[3]

“The psychological “transcendent function” arises from the union of conscious and unconscious contents”[4]  The conscious and unconscious rarely agree because the unconscious behaves in a compensatory or complimentary manner towards the conscious (which can also be said of the reverse)[5]. 

“The question is: What kind of mental and moral attitude is it necessary to have towards the disturbing influences of the unconscious?”

The answer obviously consists in getting rid of the separation between conscious and unconscious.  This cannot be done by condemning the contents of the unconscious in a one-sided way, but rather by recognizing their significance in compensating the one-sidedness of consciousness and by taking this significance into account.  The tendencies of the conscious and unconscious are the two factors that together make up the transcendent function.  It is called “transcendent” because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible, without loss of the unconscious.  The constructive or synthetic method of treatment presupposes insights which are at least potentially present in the patient and can therefore be made conscious.”  

What is required of the transcendent function is – the unconscious material.  Dreams are the most available source of pure unconscious material (data), but because of their low-energy-tension are ‘inferior expressions of unconscious contents”[6][7] 

“As we have seen, we need the unconscious contents to supplement the conscious attitude.  If the conscious attitude were only to a slight degree ‘directed’, the unconscious could flow in quite of its own accord.  This is what does in fact happen with all those people who have a low level of conscious tension.”[8] 

Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his power had a dream which foretold disaster if he did not humble himself.  Daniel interpreted the dream quite expertly, but without getting a hearing.  Subsequent events showed that his interpretation was correct, for Nebuchadnezzar, after suppressing the unconscious regulating influence, fell victim to a psychosis that contained the very counteraction he had sought to escape: he, the lord of the earth, was degraded to an animal.[9]  

“He becomes aware how easy it is to overlook the regulating influences, and that he should endeavour to pay attention to the unconscious regulation which is so necessary for our mental and physical health.  Accordingly he will try to help himself by practicing self-observation and self-criticism.  But mere self-observation and intellectual self-analysis are entirely inadequaqte as a means to establishing contact with the unconscious.  Although no human being can be spared bad experiences, everyone shrinks from risking them, especially if he sees any way by which they might be circumvented.  Knowledge of the regulating influences of the unconscious offers just such a possibility and actually does render much bad experience unnecessary.  We can avoid a great many detours that are distinguished by no particular attraction but only by tiresome conflicts.  It is bad enough to make detours and painful mistakes in unknown and unexplored territory, but to get lost in inhabited country on broad highways is merely exasperating.”[10]

If the object (or thought, idea, complex etc.) has a strong enough energy-presence than by using the emotional state as a starting point and being aware of all encompassing moods and ideas without judgment[11] – consciousness can bring the nebulous energy-source into a more solidified (viewable and understandable) field of consciousness.  The light of that consciousness ends up expressing the mood of the object and illuminating the problem for [fixing][12].   

Where the object has a weak energy field – probing and prodding can be used to bring the object ‘to the surface’.  By first quieting the mind to a level that the subtlest of vibrations can be noticed, we can look for visual images, listen for auditory signals (i.e. words/voices), or we can express the ideas with our hands by drawing, painting, sculpting, or even writing.

What now?   … page 291

“…it is only when the conscious mind confronts the products of the unconscious that a provisional reaction will ensue which determines the subsequent procedure.   Practical experience alone can give us a clue.  So far as my experience goes, there appear to be two main tendencies.  One is the way of creative formulation, the other the way of understanding[13].”  Neither of these tendencies though can be forced.  The process is more like ‘fishing’.  “The danger of the aesthetic tendency is overvaluations of the formal or ‘artistic’ worth of the fantasy-productions… The danger of wanting to understand the meaning is overvaluations of the content.[14]

There is a second phase that Jung called the transcendental function. This function has the capacity to unify the opposite tendencies of the personality. The goal of transcendence is the realization of all aspects of the personality as they were originally concealed in the one’s center, and the development of the potential unity. The transcendence is the means to realize the unity of the archetype of the Self.

   In all mystical lore, a passage through the door of death leads to immortal life; not our merely physical, historical dying (that is the popular reading of the mystery), but a psychological dying to the fear of death.  This means that one’s center of self-identification has to be shifted from the temporal personality to that, within, which neither was born nor will die, but is eternal.  And the whole sense of Buddhism, accordingly, asserts that only when our thirst for life and the life-chilling fear of death are quenched can we know that, within, which has always been there, antecedent to and transcendent of the limitations of the mortal personality.  And in this knowledge, all categories, whether of experience, of thought, or of feeling, are transcended; all names and forms, all pairs of opposites, whether of I and Thou, good and evil, yes and no, life and death, or even being and nonbeing, God and the soul.  TMD 204

There is nothing mysterious or metaphysical about the term ‘transcendent function.’  It means a psychological function comparable in its way to a mathematical function of the same name, which is a function of real and imaginary numbers.  The psychological ‘transcendent function’ arises from the union of conscious and unconscious contents. 









[1] Kindertraumseminar, 1938-39.  Jacobi page 10.

 

[2] the collective unconscious part that we are expected to not be conscious of, can be made conscious if we follow the methods outlined by Buddha in his teachings in the Dhammapada (THE COLLECTION OF TEACHING).  The Dhammapada opens with the statement that mind is primary and pervades all things. 

 

[3] The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 285

[4] The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 273

[5] Ibid: page 275 - This is because:

1         Consciousness possesses a threshold intensity which its contents must have attained, so that all elements that are too weak remain in the unconscious.

2         “Consciousness, because of its directed functions, exercises an inhibition (which Freud calls censorship) on all incompatible material, with the result that it sinks into the unconscious.”

3         “Consciousness constitutes the momentary process of adaptation, whereas the unconscious contains not only all the forgotten material of the individual’s own past, but all the inherited behaviour traces constituting the structure of the mind. 

4         The unconscious contains all the fantasy combinations which have not yet attained the threshold intensity, but which in the course of time and under suitable conditions will enter the light of consciousness.

 

[6] … and are very difficult to understand from a constructive point of view, but are usually easier to understand reductively.  In general, dreams are unsuitable or difficult to make use of in developing the transcendent function, because they make too great demands on the subject.   Portable Jung - 283

[7] There are also unconscious interferences (slips of the tongue, ideas out of the blue, etc.) and spontaneous fantasies, but both are also inferior in that they cannot purely produce the content we are trying to analyze. 

[8] i.e primitives.  “Among primitives, no special measures are required to bring up the unconscious… because those people who are least aware of their unconscious side are the most influenced by it.  But they are unconscious of what is happening.  The secret participation of the unconscious is everywhere present without our having to search for it, but as it remains unconscious we never really know what is going on or what to expect.”  P’ble Jung - 285

[9] The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 287

[10] The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 288

[11] Otherwise one gets led astray along the fantasy and one cannot be sure if they are dealing with the intended object, or are chasing free associations.

[12] The unconscious strives for light, the conscious strives for substance

[13]Where the principle of creative formulation predominates, the material is continually varied and increased until a kind of condensation of motifs into more or less stereotyped symbols takes place.  These stimulate the creative fantasy and serve chiefly as aesthetic motifs.  This tendency leads to the aesthetic problem of artistic formulation.  Where, on the other hand, the principle of understanding predominates, the aesthetic aspect is of relatively little interest and may be a hindrance.  Instead, there is an intensive struggle to understand the meaning of the unconscious product”  The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 291   

[14] The Transcendent Function – The Portable Jung – edited by Joseph Campbell – page 292