Brain Pickings

Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung on Human Personality in Rare BBC Interview

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“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”

Legendary Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (July 26, 1875–June 6, 1961), along with his frenemy Freud, is considered the founding father of modern analytical psychology. He coined the concepts of collective consciousness and introverted vs. extroverted personality, providing the foundation for the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Though famously accused of having lost his soul, Jung had a much more heartening view of human nature than Freud and memorably wrote that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” On October 22 of 1959, BBC’s Face to Face — an unusual series of pointed, almost interrogative interviews seeking to “unmask public figures” — aired a segment on Jung, included in the 1977 anthology C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters (public library). Eighty-four at the time and still working, he talks to New Statesman editor John Freeman about education, religion, consciousness, human nature, and his temperamental differences with Freud, which sparked his study of personality types. Transcript highlights below.

Echoing Anaïs Nin’s meditation on the fluid self from a decade earlier, Jung confirms that fixed personality is a myth:

Psychological type is nothing static — it changes in the course of life.

He advocates for psychology as the most potent tool for understanding human nature and thus saving humanity from itself:

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only danger that exists is man himself — he is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man — far too little.

But perhaps most timeless and timely of all is the interview’s concluding question, the answer to which arrives at the same conclusion that Viktor Frankl famously did:

FREEMAN: As the world becomes more technically efficient, it seems increasingly necessary for people to behave communally and collectively, now do you think it’s possible that the highest development of man may be to submerge his own individuality in a kind of collective consciousness?

JUNG: That’s hardly possible. I think there will be a reaction — a reaction will set in against this communal dissociation. You know, man doesn’t stand forever, his nullification. Once, there will be a reaction, and I see it setting in, you know, when I think of my patients, they all seek their own existence and to assure their existence against that complete atomization into nothingness or into meaninglessness. Man cannot stand a meaningless life.

This interview, writes editor R. F. C. Hull in C.G. Jung Speaking, “undoubtedly brought Jung to more people than any other piece of journalism and any of Jung’s own writings.” Complement it with Jung’s fantastic catalog of the unconscious, The Book of Symbols, and his timelessly captivating Memories, Dreams, Reflection.

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