Rand's Pre-Conceptual and Jung's Plastic Stage

    Ayn Rand defines "sense of life" as "a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence". In more concrete terms, it is the the specific, overall feeling of being alive that an individual has, in response to his beliefs.

    The question I wish to address, however, is what does Rand mean by pre-conceptual? What is there in between the perceptual mind of an irrational animal and the fully conceptual mind of a rational adult?

    A concept is a mental integration of perceptual information, or previously created concepts. This integration is an active, volitional process, comprised of multiple discrete steps. Those steps include establishing a specific context, identifying similarities between entities in that context, differentiating those entities from everything else, associating those entities in one's mind, assigning a symbol to that association, and formulating a definition.

    Just like a concept can exist in one's mind without a clear definition, an association can exist without a symbol to denote it. Just like we need to focus our eyes to see specific entities, however, we need to focus our minds to perceive a specific mental existent - and symbols are the means with which we focus on associations. Without a symbol with which to bring an association into conscious focus one cannot perceive it as a discrete mental existent, but only as a part of their integrated mental state - an aspect of a feeling.

    Without a symbol, one also cannot control their associations. To change the contents, or the definition or a concept, one has to bring it to focus, and alter it. Without a symbol, the association cannot be brought to mind, and therefore cannot be subject to direct volitional control. That is why changing one's emotions is trickier than changing one's ideas - we must first identify the unnamed associations that give rise to our emotions, and only then alter them.

    This is the essence of Carl Jung's distinction between the "plastic" and "pre-plastic" stages of consciousness. The plastic stage, which he identified as the first step towards free-will, is being able to give symbols to our associations, thus gaining volitional control over them. This is also relevant to Freud's idea of "complexes", as associations between unnamed associations - an idea I will explore tomorrow.

  -  April 11th, 2020