Monday, October 26, 2009

John Williams - Jungian?

In today's post, Bruce Hembd has a quote from John Williams and a link to the article it's taken from:

>>  “When I’ve tried to analyze my lifelong love of the French horn, I’ve had to conclude that it’s mainly because of the horn’s capacity to stir memories of antiquity,” writes Williams, who has now composed several concertos, including for violin, cello, clarinet, flute, bassoon and tuba. “The very sound of the French horn conjures images stored in the collective psyche. It’s an instrument that invites us to ‘dream backward to the ancient time.’ “ <<

That sounds a lot like archetypes in the collective unconscious. 


  1. Just as with ESP, I wouldn't recommend you travel any distance down this road. Jung is taking something which undoubtedly does exist - a common culture and way of thinking about things - and is extending it to hypothesise about something for which there is no evidence at all - a collective unconscious.

    Communication happens in both verbal and non-verbal ways, and non-verbal emotional and other thoughts can and do get communicated between people. But because both the thoughts and the means of communicating them is non-verbal, it is hard to describe them using words, and Jung and others (in my view) made the error of assuming that there was something else going on. It isn't. It is all happening between individual minds, and it is all happening via the senses.

    Of course, both Freudian and Jungian ways of describing such things have now entered the vocabulary and have becme popularised. That doesn't make them right. We have learned a great deal about the mind and about communication since their day.

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  3. Jonathan - As always, very much appreciate your thoughtful comment. I take your skeptical point. For me it's sort of like that A.C. Clark idea that magic is simply technology not understood. From what I can tell we're right at the beginning of a huge surge of gained knowledge about brain function and consciousness. Once that's all in place, there may well be a better, more accurate, way of talking about these issues. Until then, Jung's vocabulary - introvert/extrovert; thinking, feeling, intuition, sensation; archetypes and collective unconscious - are very handy tools for trying to talk about what's going on in music therapy and consciousness in general, sort of a first approximation that over time will surely be refined, if not replaced.

    On a more general level, I'm reminded of the quote something like, "There's more to heaven and earth, Horatio, than dreamt of in your philosophy". And that modern physicist who said something like, "The universe isn't just as weird as you might imagine, it's weirder than you can imagine". Having read your other blog, I do not want to get into a knock down drag out over this! Just saying it wouldn't greatly surprise me if straight logical thinking as we now understand it is not the single and only key to understanding our existence and the universe around us. (That thing of small particle "entanglement" over vast distances, though empirical, doesn't seem logical, for instance.)

    One last quote. Back as an undergraduate English major I had a professor I admired greatly and with whom I had long discussions covering material similar to what's in your other blog. I think he would be in complete agreement with you, except where you say, "the error of assuming that there was something else going on", he often said that though he was a skeptic, he couldn't help suspecting there was what he called, "Something Else", but he just didn't have a clue as to what it might be.

  4. You should never assume there is "something else going on". You decide that the possibility may be worthy of investigation if there is some evidence of it. And then the investigation should have the aim of discovering whether or not this something else does in fact exist, by finding better and more conclusive evidence one way or the other.

    This is the topic of my article on the other blog The conflict between science and religion. The points I make in it are equally applicable to non-religious systems of thought that are no evidence-based. That is not to say that Freud and Jung were deliberately going about constructing such systems of thought, it is just that we now have a better understanding than they did of the nature of evidence and the effective means by which hypotheses can be tested.

  5. Jonathan - I'll go read the post you cite and maybe come back to this. For now just want to clarify I don't assume there's something else, it's just that I'm as open to that possibility as to there not being something else. When the empiricists give us language to explain things like the action at a distance of "entanglement", other than it's quantum weirdness that we don't fully understand, I'll welcome it wholeheartedly. My concern is trying to better understand how music can be used in therapeutic ways, not metaphysical certainty.

    I can understand that from your point of view that means my quest is fatally flawed. From my point of view, provisional progress is better than none at all while waiting for the empiricists to give answers that may be decades in coming.

    Thanks again for all your comments. You've led me to clarify my thoughts on a whole range of issues. In all of my responses, I'm only trying to convey my thoughts. I'm in no way suggesting your positions are in error.

    In all my 60 years I've always been an outlier and have become comfortably accustomed to holding non-conformist views, and have learned that most people change their long held views (if at all) only through some internal process, that debate with others rarely changes much.

  6. No, your quest is a valid and even worthy one, fully deserving of support and encouragement. And it is possible to have successes in it without knowing all there is to know about what is going on. Some knowledge is better than none, and with that knowledge comes the ability to do good with it. More knowledge increases your capabilities.

    As with the comments on ESP, all I'm trying to achieve is to help you avoid heading down blind alleys of unfruitful ideas.

    That can include those ideas which are unsupported by evidence, those which are contradicted by the available evidence, and (more subtly) those unfalsifiable propositions for which no evidence could possibly be produced that would settle the matter in either direction.

    The danger is always that an idea's familiarity masks the fact that it may fall into one of those three categories, because you first learned of the idea at a time when you were less discriminating as to the possibility that it might not be useful.

  7. Jonathan - I just spent an hour or so with the post you mention over on your other blog and coming up with some comments I'm going to leave over there. After that I'll come back to this - maybe ;-) I keep thinking of that Voltaire quote from Candide - We must cultivate our own garden. Horn practice awaits.