Can there be a science of the symbolic?


  • John Beebe


Abstract:  Science means not just ‘knowing’, but knowing verified by replicability. Science is particularly hard to bring to depth psychology because the individual uniquenesses that can’t be repeated are what make people most deeply themselves. Everyone, including the analytic investigator, however, has a science, in the sense of a world-view that is replicated by experience. Jung offered hermeneutics as an alternative mode to science for getting to know the psychological subject. But as Heidegger emphasized, hermeneutics always begins with the projection of a world-view, i.e., the science of the would-be interpreter. In the analytic situation, dialogue is available to test the world-view and enlarge its horizon, in accord with Gadamer's expansion of hermeneutics, ‘the classical discipline concerned with the art of understanding texts’, into a method of inquiry open to the possibilities of otherness. An example is given from an analytic training seminar, in which the author began by projecting his version of the theory of psychological types onto the dream material a candidate offered in response to the seminar. A dialogue with the candidate ensued which enabled the teacher to correct his original, somewhat rigid, application of his scientific viewpoint. In such a dialogue, psyche emerges as the final interpreter of what is, generating hypotheses that can fruitfully be applied to the understanding of other cases.