By Roberto Assagioli, undated, from the lectures: Course Of Lessons On: Latent Energies In Us (Notes). From the Assagioli Archive in Florence, translated by Gordon Symons. Original title: La Struttura Dell’inconscio E I Suoi Rapporti Con La Coscienza
There is a fundamental distinction between the part of the unconscious that is amorphous and undifferentiated, and that which is organized in psychic structures of various origins and complexity.
1. Amorphous, Plastic Unconscious
It is the part of our psyche that is still “neutral”, not molded, but which is very sensitive to impressions, docile to suggestions and obedient to commands (provided they are given in a suitable way). Its most evident manifestation is in hypnosis, but we must realize that it exists in each of us. It can be compared to an inexhaustible deposit of unexposed photographic film, or unused magnetic tapes.
It is a plastic substance ready to be modeled, energy ready to be used. It is our immense internal wealth; but this treasure, given its nature, must be carefully watched so that it is not tampered with, deteriorated and corrupted by harmful influences. It is practically inexhaustible; it gives us the ability to learn, develop and improve; indeed it constitutes our perennial psycho-spiritual youth.
This fact is in itself very encouraging; then if we also realize another character of the unconscious, namely that everything is present and current for it, then it is clear that internally it is not necessary to age. This is a bad habit from which we could and should correct ourselves! Old “psychologically” is only those who believe and accept themselves as such. As long as we are willing to learn and have new experiences, as long as we are interested in the multifaceted life that unfolds around us, we are young.
As long as we do not let ourselves be deceived by the illusion that makes us idealize the past by arousing nostalgia from the “good old days”, and as long as we keep in spiritual contact with the new generations, participating in their anxieties and cooperating fraternally with them, we can rightly tell us young, whatever the age of our body. In fact, there is no shortage of people who have maintained a freshness of intelligence and creative power until late in life, who have indeed developed and renewed themselves to the last: just mention Goethe, Wagner, Verdi. I know a lady who was already more than seventy, a connoisseur of many languages, continued to study new ones to keep her mind agile. Everyone, I believe, knows old people who are more lively, cheerful and optimistic than many pseudo-young people. But there is more: given the continuous and strong influence that the psyche exerts on the body, internal youthfulness effectively contributes to keeping the body healthy and active and also to prolonging its life.
All this is made possible by the latent energies in the plastic, virgin, “new” unconscious that is in us. We appreciate the value of this great and ignored wealth of ours, so as not to leave it unproductive, using it for our own and others’ good.
2. Differentiated Unconscious
The differentiated unconscious can be compared to an immense collection of already exposed films, of recorded discs. However, this analogy is only partial; in fact, while the images of the films, the tracks of the discs, are in a static and fixed condition, the impressions and emotions of the unconscious are instead animated by propulsive energy, and tend to associate, to fight and modify each other, producing a continuous work and ferment in our soul.
To bring the order and clarity necessary for practical purposes into the knowledge of this aspect of our psyche, it is appropriate to examine the simpler psychic elements, and then see how and according to which laws they combine and operate in us.
The psychic elements can be divided into three series, qualitatively different, and in each series they can be arranged along an ascending scale of value and dignity.
A) Knowledge Series
Sensations – images – concrete concepts – abstract (general) concepts – universal ideas.
B) Emotional Series
Passions – emotions – personal feelings – aesthetic and moral feelings – universal (spiritual) feelings.
C) Active Series
Instincts – impulses – tendencies – desires – aspirations – personal will – spiritual will.
To show how psychic elements are produced or awakened and activated, we will give an example: the mere sight of a dog can arouse numerous states and motions of the three series:
Cognitive series: elementary visual sensation. Perception and recognition of the dog as such. Evocation of images of other dogs seen. Concepts of dog, animal, living being. Idea of life in general.
Emotional series: attraction or fear (from painful experiences, such as biting from other dogs). Feeling of affection, aesthetic feeling aroused by the beauty of the dog. Sense of fraternity towards that aspect of universal life.
Even more numerous are the psychic elements and motions determined by perceived, imagined and thought stimuli, of such a nature as to touch us more vividly, such as: mother, father, God.
After this analytical examination, however, we must note that the psychic elements are never found in isolation, one could say “in their pure state”. In reality they always tend to associate with each other in various ways. Thus groups of sensations, ideas, emotions, feelings, impulses, tendencies and desires of various kinds, amplitude and power are formed, which have been called “ideas-forces” (Fouillé), “complexes” (Jung), “psychic constellations” . These complexes then join together in larger groupings, to form, even in normal humans, true sub-personalities: for example, the professional ego, the family ego, etc.
They can be compared to the cells of the body, which are united in groups to form tissues (muscular, connective, nervous), and the various tissues are intertwined in turn forming organs (such as the stomach, heart, liver), and finally the organs coordinate in complex systems and systems (digestive, circulatory, respiratory systems). However, the “psychic systems” are still far from being coordinated and harmonious like those of the body: there is still a lot of disorder, dissociation and conflicts between them.
With regard to the respective function of the various series of psychic facts, it can be said in general that the cognitive elements give shape and direction, while the emotional ones give energy, life. Another comparison, even if it is also partial, can help to understand some of the relationships existing between psychic facts:
An idea-force can be compared to an electric accumulator. The cognitive aspect in this case corresponds to the material of which the accumulator is made, and to the conductive wires. The charge and the propulsive force correspond to the accumulated electric charge.
“The electricity from the accumulator always tends to spread, and as soon as it finds a suitable conductor it pours along it; thus the idea-force, which has an energy within itself that tends to be expressed externally in acts, and does so as soon as it finds the way clear of inhibitions … If the accumulator is defective, electricity is easily dispersed; thus, if the idea-force is confused and uncertain, its energy, however intense at the beginning, soon dissipates, as happens with so many warm enthusiasms that have arisen today and faded tomorrow … (The Psychology of ideas-forces and psychagogy, in Journal of Applied Psychology, year V, 1909, n. 5).
The psycho-electrical analogy also serves to illustrate the various types of combinations and connections that exist between the various ideas-forces.
Accumulators “in series” (positive pole of one connected to the negative pole of the other), in which the potential difference increases, the electrical voltage (the height of the cascade): they correspond to ideo-affective complexes in which each added element increases and intensifies the emotional and impulsive charge. For example, a person in the throes of a passion, a man in love with a woman, in which each new fact, each new image, each new thought concerning the loved one gives new bait to the fire, makes the passion more intense and the life more alive. desire (the same can also be said in the case of other passions: avarice, ambition, combativeness, etc.).
The accumulators can instead be joined “in parallel” (or in derivation), that is the positive poles between them and the negative poles between them; in this case there is no increase in potential, but in intensity, in “amperage”, that is, in mass, in quantity (the waterfall remains the same height, but the mass of the falling water increases).
In the psychic field this corresponds to the extension, the broadening of a feeling, a tendency, a desire, from one to more objects; an affection which, without intensifying, extends from one to several people; the desire for an object that extends to other similar objects; for example, the maternal feeling of a teacher who makes her extend her affection gradually to all the children entrusted to her.
Another interesting analogy: when the electrical intensity exceeds, due to the high potential difference, the maximum ratio with the resistance of the accumulator, or of the wires, or of the insulator, there are short circuits or discharges which often have a destructive effect on the plant itself, and on who is hit by the current. Thus no less dangerous and sometimes destructive discharges occur in the psyche. What is a crime, if not a violent discharge of an accumulated passion that has reached a very high potential?
However, when the discharge does not occur externally, but within the psyche itself, there are “internal short circuits”, that is, the psychic charge exceeds normal resistances, spreads through undue ways and produces various types of neuropsychic disorders. The most typical example is given by the hysterical access, in which a strong emotion – instead of remaining in the psychic realm or manifesting itself externally through the normal ways of expression (mimicry, language, action) – rushes in impetuously, overcoming any inhibitory resistance, in the motor innervation of the body, giving rise to convulsions or other disordered movements.
Instead, there are the normal and useful transformations of electrical energy into mechanical energy by means of the various species of motors; the transformations of electricity into heat, light, etc.
These transformations correspond in the psychic life to the various fruitful transformations of psychological energies, feelings, desires and volitions, into constructive actions: the love of country that turns into acts of heroism or into daily service; the amorous sentiment that is transformed into a poem or into a fervor of work; pity for the suffering which is transformed into beneficial social action, etc.
Other interesting psycho-electrical analogies are the phenomena of induction: the current flowing through the primary circuit causes an opposite one in the secondary circuit. Thus an idea, a conscious purpose, arouses the opposite idea, or a reluctance in the unconscious. Hence: inhibition, indecision and contrast (this explains various psychasthenic symptoms). Similar phenomena of psychic induction do not occur only within the same psyche, but also occur frequently between two people: the state of mind of one arouses an opposite state of mind in the other; in these cases, induction manifests itself as a spirit of contradiction (this also explains many things).
However, this is not always the case; indeed, states of mind are often communicated and transmitted directly, as if there were a connecting thread, a line of force between individual and individual. This corresponds to the transmission of electricity at a distance. The various individuals each form a connected accumulator, both in parallel and also in series, that is, with an intensification of energy, with an increase in potential. This type of connection explains certain phenomena of collective psychology, such as the exaltation of crowds.
Remote electrical action currently has its most refined manifestation in radiotelegraphic and radiotelephone transmissions, by means of Hertzian waves. These find their analogy in the phenomena of distant psychic transmission, such as telepathy and other parapsychological phenomena.
These analogies and others that might be found may form the basis of a new psychodynamics. But in doing so we remember that we are dealing with energies qualitatively different from the natural, physical ones; in this case we are dealing with intelligent and living forces, with psychic, moral and spiritual energies. They cannot be measured with precision instruments, they cannot be produced and put into action by material and visible means. But they are therefore no less real and powerful. We always remember that it is they who have given us dominion over external forces, of which we are so proud: it was the light of intelligence lit in our minds that allowed us to dispel the external darkness with headlights and electric lamps; it was the fervor of the soul, the strength of the will that gave man the daring to conquer the skies. In short, behind every force and every material conquest lies the highest and most powerful energy of the SPIRIT.