“…the unconscious Zeitgeist…compensates the attitude of the conscious mind and anticipates changes to come. An excellent example of this is modern art: though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really performing a work of psychological education on the public…” Carl Jung
Dan. Carl Jung was one of the giants of the 20th century. In spite of the fact that some of his major concepts were relegated to the fringe of serious thinking by the so-called intelligentsia of the day, he contributed enormously to psychology, philosophy and science—especially particle physics. That last comment will no doubt surprise many, however much of the resurgence of Jung’s ideas today are related to the continuing onslaught of confirmations of the strange, seemingly impossible predictions of quantum science.
Reality is Mysterious
“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and, therefore, part of the mystery we are trying to solve. Music and art are, to an extent, also attempts to solve or at least to express the mystery.” Max Planck
Strangely this connects to quantum field theory and the speed of light in Einstein’s Relativity. According to one particle physicist a photon (which is a unit of light) doesn’t move at all—it is a stationary ripple in the electromagnetic field1. It’s the effect on the field itself that causes the perception of light speed. Importantly it transforms from a wave of possibilities into a real particle, in this case a photon, only when it is observed. Now this is a leap of thought, but this transformation from a collection of possibilities into a real object relates, in my mind, to Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious emerging into a real individual with a clear set of characteristics and perceptions.
One artist whose work is clearly part of this artistic bridge is New York photographer Saul Robbins. For example his series White Light Meditations tends to capture Jung’s concept of unconscious symbols. In physics, a wave of possibilities propagates through space and time to emerge as a particle. And, according to Jung’s theory the circle is a symbol of deity. So the aesthetic use of this symbol is felt to be connected, through the unconscious, to an interpretation of ultimate reality that is unavailable to conscious perception. Interestingly, Robbins’ work also hints at the electromagnetic force—a critical element of particle physics.
Saul. This series of meditation drawings began as a response to the struggles and desires my wife and I had to start our family. They were intended both as a way to accept the struggles of our situation and, equally important, as a practice to focus my creative and mental energies on a positive outcome. While I don’t know very much about Jung’s concept of the collective unconsciousness, it seems I am destined to access and interact with it. This particular drawing was made right before my wife became pregnant, and I am intrigued by the possibility that the practice of meditative image making could literally imprint itself on our bodies and psyches.
Working this way allows my mind to drop into another place and phase of consciousness; a deeper place than the one I live and function in, where perhaps I am able to meet and access other realities of personal and aesthetic potential.
“The pleasingness of the artistic product is replaced by chill abstractions of the most subjective nature which brusquely slam the door on the naïve and romantic delight in the senses and on the obligatory love for the object.” Carl Jung
Dan: Let’s look at Einstein’s EPR paradox. Together with collaborators (i.e., Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen) Einstein sought to prove that quantum mechanics couldn’t possibly be true. Bear in mind, Einstein played a key role in establishing quantum science. But he couldn’t accept the idea of “spooky action at a distance.” For the science and math to work nature would have to allow information to pass between two previously correlated objects instantaneously, even if they now exist across the universe from each other. That violates Einstein’s speed of light limit of the universe.
So with the EPR Paradox Einstein developed what he felt would prove the “failure” of quantum science. Unfortunately for Albert and his colleagues, the technical ability of science caught-up to their thought experiment. In the 1980s physicist Alain Aspect conducted real experiments proving that once entangled particles do in fact react to each other instantaneously regardless of distance—even if they exist on opposite sides of the universe.
Saul: My work references loss, unity, and failure, regardless of that being photographic material, emotional experience, or personal history. Jung’s quotation speaks clearly and deeply to me of wanting to maintain a balance between the desire of one’s ideals and the realistic boundaries that we must learn to live within.
The Human Connection
“Great art till now has always derived its fruitfulness from myth, from the unconscious process of symbolization which continues through the ages and, as the primordial manifestation of the human spirit, will continue to be the root of all creation in the future.” Carl Jung
Dan: The fusion of science, philosophy and art occurs mostly, if not totally on the unconscious level. There’s a passion in the scientist to dig deeper and deeper into reality to understand the “what” and the “how” of existence. There’s a passion in the philosopher (or religious leader) to study and meditate in an attempt to understand the “why” of existence. And, likewise there’s passion in the artist to express what neither the scientist nor the philosopher yet understands. That cloud-like wave that eventually collapses into a particle under observation by a scientist may well be a connection to Jung’s collective unconscious. And art may be our link to a truth beyond the ability of our limited senses to comprehend.
The Doors of Perception
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” William Blake
Saul. Like Blake, I am increasingly interested in cleansing and re-surfacing the physical elements that mitigate my relationship with photographic materials. This might take literal, physical form, or the lack thereof, or refer metaphorically to the ways that many of us might hope to confront challenges in our lives head on, accessing a balance of skilled experience and blind faith to guide us.
Dan: The work of Saul Robbins is compelling and inspiring. As I contemplate his work I feel that sense of connection that I can’t really express in words. This article, linking his work, metaphorically, to the concepts of Carl Jung and various scientists is the best I can do.
Are artists like Saul Robbins trying to connect us with ultimate reality? Are they “cleansing the doors of perception?” I believe they are. It is, no doubt, a Jung like “unconscious” attempt—at least as far as the depths of their passion. The Zen Buddhists tell us that everything is one thing—and that we’re part of it. Is art and science teaming up to lead us to a universal truth? In the immortal words of Jon J. Muth “It is easy to believe we are each waves and forget we are also the ocean.”
Dan Duda is a scientific writer and contributor to VJIC. He is living in Lititz, Pennsylvania (USA). This is Dan’s third essay for VJIC on photography, the visual arts and Quantum theory.
Saul Robbins is interested in the ways people interact with their surroundings, and the psychological dynamics of intimacy. His photographs are motivated by observations of human behavior and personal experience, especially those related to loss and unity. He is best known for the series Initial Intake, which examines the empty chairs of Manhattan-based psychotherapy professionals from their clients’ perspective, and How Can I Help? – An Artful Dialogue, a pop-up exhibition and installation in which he invites strangers to speak with other artists and himself about any topic they wish for free and in complete confidence. He is currently working with Pelican Bomb in New Orleans, using the ideals of that project as a framework to address the need for more available mental health services. For more images and information about Where’s My Happy Ending? please visit his website, www.saulrobbins.com