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Book Review Jungian Archetypes – Jung, Gödel, and the History of Archetypes

A book can make definitive statements or it can provoke thought. Robin Robertson‘s book Jungian Archetypes – ‘Jung Gödel and the History of Archetypes’ does both. His overview of the development of philosophy, science, mathematics and psychology and their juxtapositioning shows interesting parallels in collective thought.

Robertson delves into the ancient world, eastern and western traditions, selecting leading thinkers of the time to illustrate the intertwining developments. Having reached the stage where we are now, Robertson raises questions about where our current knowledge may lead us.
Robertson spends considerable time going over Jung’s main ideas relating to the collective unconscious, archetypes, the self, the animus/anima and the shadow. For anyone who has not spent a lot of time thinking about these concepts, he explains them clearly and succinctly. These concepts are not ones that come easily – I found that just learning the meaning was completely insufficient. The more takes you get and the more time you spend getting to the Jungian Archetypes - Jung, Gödel, and the History of Archetypesguts of them the better and Robertson evidently has this attitude himself.

Gödel in an entirely different field was also looking at archetypes – he ‘believed mathematics dealt with eternal archetypal entities such as number and shape.’ p182 Robertson’s ability to simplify abstract mathematical constructs allows non-mathematicians to join in on the discoveries of the time and to actually understand them.

The section on Alchemy I found interesting and this has certainly prompted me to undertake further investigation in this field.

But even if all you end up remembering is the ‘Barber Paradox’ coined by Bertrand Russell, p127, the read is worth it. This paradox will happily do away with any finite conclusions you thought you could make. Through the ‘Barber Paradox’, you are introduced to self-referential systems and your life will never be the same.

As demonstrated by Robertson, the concepts of all the great thinkers in the book were a result of their life’s work. Certainly we are very fortunate that they did all that thinking and wrote down their observations, but that doesn’t mean we just accept them at face value and bander them about at a surface level.

The subjects we are dealing with are not simple – deeper truths are contained within. To treat these lightly without a sense of reverence is to belittle the meaning of life itself – to disacknowledge the incredibly diverse, complex, awe-inspiring universe of which we are an integral part.

Many of the concepts in the book can be used to deepen our appreciation and understanding of astrology, even though no direct inferences are made to that great tradition.

This is contrary to a lot of popular astrology books which allude to Jung’s theories and the alchemical process. Either the writers know the subject very deeply and assume the readers do as well, or they have picked up some surface knowledge and merely apply a smattering to show how clever they are.

Larger than life figures always emerge who become synonymous with developments in their field, but the prima materia they work with to glean their insights is gathered from a collective effort. The book inspires all of us to look at our existing knowledge in a fresh way. Robertson challenges us to take up the cause –

The world is a place of magic and wonder. Sometimes in our childish arrogance we overlook that wonder and think our little toys are greater than the world. But then we grow older and wiser, and once more our sense of wonder is restored. Jung and Gödel have, each in their own way, tried to open our eyes to the magic around us and within us. The archetypal hypothesis is a starting point to explore that wonder, not an end point to circumscribe its possibilities. p281

Last updated on February 18, 2017 at 12:26 pm. Word Count: 630