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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Correspondences with Chaos Theory

Van Eenwyk (1997) maintains that by understanding chaos theory, we can see how symbols do what they do. He then goes on to give the mandala as an example, because mandalas occur in every culture and are a description of how things are, of life itself. Van Eenwyk notes that Jung describes mandalas as characterized by a “phenomenology that is always repeating and everywhere the same,” noting that this is a good description of self-similarity across scale. Van Eenwyk also notes in Jung’s description that “It seems to be a sort of atomic nucleus about whose innermost structure and ultimate meaning we know nothing” which Van Eenwyk feels “suggest the presence of fractal dimension and SDIC," and he then poses the question “Could mandalas and fractal attractors be two versions of the same reality?” Van Eenwyk also remarks that Jungian analyst C.A. Meier says mandalas are “ever vividly rotating, thus indicating the dynamics, the process, the character of the ever repeated night-sea-journey during the ‘dark night of the soul’” (pp. 110-111). This harkens back to the previous discussion of fractal dimension where symbols are seen as snapshots of archetypal dynamics.

Van Eenwyk (1997) describes the process of archetypal dynamics as a dance or play of opposites as it were, between consciousness and the unconscious going back and forth, first one way and then back around the next. As we can see, this oscillation is an iterative process, and these synchronic dynamics are what fuel the psyche and lead to psychological growth. Just as in chaos theory, where we get new patterns emerging from chaos, so too with symbols, at some point something new springs from something old, which as Jung notes was the result of the underlying archetype. Van Eenwyk convincingly demonstrates the usefulness of chaos theory in understanding Jung’s ideas.

While discussing the oscillating nature of the tension of opposites, Van Eenwyk (1997) observes that the oscillation between the new and old for quite some time before the new pattern is established is also sometimes known as suffering, and that the oscillations can create a cascade of bifurcations that lead to chaos.

Jung was familiar with this phenomenon and considered it to be an integral part of the individuation process. He cited precedents in alchemy, shamanism, and mystical experience, all of which contain references to fragmentation, dismemberment, even “the return to chaos.” Furthermore we know that when a cascade continues to intensify, patterns that were once part of the original tension of opposites may again appear amid the chaos. Jung described this aspect of psychodynamics as a descent into the chaos of the unconscious that could lead to increased psychological functioning. (p. 112)
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