Moments of Complexity: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Cambray, CEO-President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. Part I of II

Posted by Angela Borda on May 24, 2022 12:58:29 PM

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Joseph Cambray, Ph.D., has been the President and CEO of Pacifica for 5 years, and previous to that served as Provost. He will be leading the Pacifica Workshop Fielding the Unconscious: The Origins and Evolution of Field Theory on June 7, 14, and 21, 2022. As always, I am delighted to be speaking with him about his research and teaching.

Angela: In your upcoming June seminar, you will begin with the origins of the field concept in depth psychology, starting in the 19th century, from William James to Freud to C.G. Jung. In particular, you discuss the symbolic elements of the unconscious that Jung included in his clinical encounters. I will admit that I don’t know what field theory is. For any readers who might also be wondering, can you give us a quick introduction to the concepts of field theory, and the importance of Jung’s focus on the unconscious and symbolism as it relates to the emergence of depth psychology as a field?

Joe: Field concepts of nature really came initially from the natural sciences, through research largely of the 19th century. In the move from the late 18th into the 19th century, one of the key questions was the nature of electricity and magnetism and whether or not they were interconnected. What evolved during the course of the 19th century was an increasing understanding and even mathematization of the relationships between electricity and magnetism. What you find there is a field of interaction. As an example, if I pass a current through an electrical wire, around the wire is a circular magnetic field, invisible, but you can measure its effect. A compass needle nearby will move in response to it. The more this was explored, the more it was realized that these fields extend throughout the entire universe, that light travels from the sun to Earth as an electromagnetic field. For a while, physicists wondered if these were like water waves. As it turns out, this is the fundamental nature of space that allows the propagation of this field. First, it’s invisible and it extends away from the object that creates it and radiates out to fill the space around it, so it’s not local as well as distributed.

This type of understanding reached its peak in classical physics through the writings of James Clerk Maxwell, who provided fully mathematical descriptions of these fields. William James became interested in Maxwell in the late 1870s and quickly understood how this related to the psychology of the mind and the way the mind is impacted by what’s on the margins. By the time he wrote his Gifford lectures in 1903/4, he was portraying the mind as having a field-like quality about it, and that notion is what is imported by depth psychologists. Jung borrowed the field notion from James, and gave it a more articulate expression. There are fields of mind, which raises the issue of whether there is reductive causation or emergence between psychic states and brain function. While we don’t know exactly is what a psychic field is; the concept itself is linked to the analogy going back to Mesmer with theory of animal magnetism. This holds that organisms have biological magnetism, an invisible field around us that is subtly linked to our mental process.

The psyche is perhaps best described in terms of the field metaphor, which reflects the way the unconscious mind behaves, while the conscious mind feels rather enskulled. As we move toward unconsciousness, we go into less definitely sharp forms of awareness. These states of mind seem to be much more diffuse and interactive with the environment, and so behave more like a field. The quirks and synchronicities of unconscious communication give us the feeling of a field. This is a level of psychic reality in which there is an increasing level of connectedness, the vision of the psyche at its deepest levels in a completely interconnected universe.

Angela: You mention exploring a more ecologically oriented approach than Jung had to the interactive field. The first time I interviewed you, I remember you were very passionate about the psyche extending to the natural world around us, and how this might amplify the importance of being ecological stewards of this planet. I came away from that conversation never quite looking at trees or even mushrooms the same. Without giving away too much about the workshop content, can you speak a little about the ecological approach you mention and why it may be the future of depth psychology?

Untitled design (73)Joe: I think it goes back to the similar metaphors. The “avatar” of this model is Suzanne Simard—see her recent book Finding the Mother Tree. At a meta level, I think the narrative offered there is modelling a new way of thinking about vocation and expression of knowledge, including the realization that there is a personal biographical piece to everything we do. You can’t be interested in something in a deep way and have it have real traction, if you don’t have an intimate connection with the material. When you look at people doing doctoral work, this is an essential part of it. The person is always embedded in their environment, which is already an ecological move, not only at human and culture levels but also with the natural world, we’re never outside of these linkages. What I like about Simard’s work is how it articulates what’s happening below the surface. The connections going on there with trees and fungi are very apt metaphors for how the psyche operates. As you go to deeper layers, the more interconnected things are. So if you want to draw on and understand models of the psyche, then they ultimately bring you toward an increasingly interconnected model.

When I first started researching this, I found that Jung had an implicitly ecological approach. He read Ernst Haeckel, a 19th-century biologist and a close friend of Darwin. Jung and Freud imported some of his ideas into depth psychology. The great American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould in his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny, has a chapter on Freud and Jung and how they incorporated Haeckel’s biogenetic “law.” So then we may ask: “Did Jung explicitly say something of an ecological nature?” It turns out he analogizes the psyche as a rhizome, where the individual is taken as what flowers for a season, but underneath there is a rhizomatic connection that endures. Rhizome as a botanical structures refers to plants such as bamboo, ginger, Aspen trees; all plants that seem to produce individuals of their species above ground, but under the soil, they are not separate organisms, instead they have a root system that connects them all into a single organism. This notion goes back to the Ancient Greeks, who first spoke of the four elements as being rhizomes. The universe is rhizomatic or interconnected through these fundamental elements. The collective unconscious, with its archetypes, reflect such a rhizomatic structure. This gives you an explicit link between depth psychology and an ecological envisioning of nature.

I’ll go into this in more depth in the seminar. This kind of knowledge, while less sharp and specific than ego consciousness, is more poetic in nature and tone, and is more the way that many indigenous people think and perceive the world, which will bring us to the need to reenchant the world. The disenchantment of the world based on enlightenment science is a concept from Max Weber at the end of the catastrophe of WWI. At Pacifica, we’re going toward the re-enchantment of the world, in which the subjective and the objective are intertwined, not disconnected…that is, we are still healing from the Cartesian Split.

Angela: In the second session of your workshop you will cover contemporary understandings of the interactive field, and “an imaginal exercise of wonder” is promised. I can’t help but wonder what this moment of wonder is about! Perhaps that needs to be a surprise. But I always appreciate the way you engage the imagination in guided visualizations during your talks. You will go over the post-Jungian vision of synchronicity, and how this leads to a “moments of complexity” approach to transformation. What is the moment of complexity, if not wonder, and what can we look forward to learning about its relevance to therapeutic work?

Untitled design (74)Joe: Wonder is the emotional experience connected with an emergence of complexity in that moment. Wonder is often part of the feeling of encountering the new or unexpected, which we tend to be more open to as children, before we are educated to feel shame at revealing our not-knowing. Moments of complexity is a term derived from the idea of “moments of meeting,” which came from the Boston Process of Change Study Group headed by Daniel Stern. In the late 1980s, this group of infant researchers and psychoanalysts raised doubts about the efficacy of interpretation in analysis as the sole source of therapeutic change and action. They explored whether it was really the interpretation that does the work or is the efficacy more embedded in the therapeutic relationship. Interpretations are important but won’t fully work without the engaged, relational element.

In exploring where change occurred, they found that it’s more deeply based in the relational piece. Most therapy sessions have a general structure that starts with a bit of ordinary chat, maybe exchanging pleasantries, moving on toward life in general, and then as you go in further, there is movement toward something more immediate, more happening in the moment. The discussion shifts toward the present moment, what is happening now; this often brings a sense of intensifying emotion. With increased emotional charge between the two people, a crucial moment can arise. If this is entered with an open mind, with carefully listening, an exchange about the quality of the experience can develop. This in turn can lead to a moment of meeting in which we discover something together that wasn’t there before. This can be mutative. Change in therapy does not rely on just one such experience but a series of these, put together over time like a string of pearls; the person ultimately reexamines their reactions and sees the ways they have unconsciously transferred problematic expectation from past experiences, blocking off the possibilities of new encounters. When consciousness starts to open up, people get curious about what’s going on, that’s the moment of meeting.

The moment of complexity is a further development, observed when something synchronistic happens in the course of therapy. In therapy, there is often moments of silence, at times these allow memories to be recovered. The moment of complexity has to do with activations in the field that belongs to, or transcend both participants, when people can retrieve things from their personal narrative that often extend beyond the individual. The meeting is at the level of the unconscious. Many things like this in the past that might’ve been said to be magical, we don’t have an explanation for them, but that doesn’t mean the phenomena isn’t real. At times you have to step outside the model of linear cause and effect; that’s when a more holistic, ecological model can be of great help. Deterministic chaos: when something may appear chaotic, but there are deeper, invisible patterns that can be found in the way things evolve. Psychic phenomena are not wholly other but have not been included in our scientific understanding of the world. It’s subtle and difficult to detect. That’s why psychogenic experiences, such as come from psychedelics, which access different levels of reality, may have different ways of being understood, but not through rational reductive thought.

“The noetic capacities of certain altered states have been of interest to depth psychologists since the start of the discipline. Now there are new finding on the role of oracles in the ancient world that articulate these capacities and offer new avenues for clinical examination and use of such states in the therapeutic process.” –Joseph Cambray

 Angela: I’ve heard many scholars at Pacifica talk about altered states in the context of accessing a means to the subconscious, working with depression, etc. But I haven’t heard that concept mixed with oracles of the ancient world. What is the connection between altered states and oracles in the context of clinical work?

Joe: First, for the oracular traditions, I’ve focused on the Mediterranean region, especially the priestesses at the temple of Apollo at Delphi and what was happening to them. They weren’t people of political power yet politicians would consult with them, and these consultations produced long-term political stability; they kept the Mediterranean basin relatively stable for about 2,000 years—so what at work in their pronouncements? What might have been active in the psychology of these women? Plutarch, the historian, was also a priest at Delphi and wrote descriptions of Pythea, priestess at Delphi. He wrote about a sweet-smelling odor that was part of the oracular experience. These gasses would come up from the geological fault and she would be possessed by Apollo when she prophesized.

In the late 19th century, at about the same time depth psych was emerging, there were a group of researchers who went to look for fault lines that might explain emitted gases, but could not find these and so they said these priestesses Researchers found shifts in the faults over the centuries, which when taken into account revealed the priestesses sat at the crossing of two fault lines. They also determined that the gas being emitted there was ethylene, which has been used in anesthesia. It’s mildly euphoric, and in low doses can induce hallucinations. So the priestesses sat on a site directly above the spot that produced a stream of psychoactive gas that would’ve induced a state of altered consciousness, through which they spoke with oracular wisdom.

The crossover to depth psychology is via the subconscious, with the person entering an altered state of mind that could be defined in terms of communication from deeper layers of the unconscious. Free association for Freud involved entering into a state of reverie, away from sharply focused consciousness, to the realm of interactive fields, tuning into states in which we can pick up what the patient is talking about consciously and unconsciously. We enhance our listening capacity, through the synchronistic field of psychotherapy. It’s no accident that Freud’s main metaphor was Oedipus, whose father consulted the oracle of Delphi, who warned him not to have a child. He ignored the oracle, and the rest is history.

Untitled design (75)Oracles, altered states of consciousness, as well as shamanic traditions, all move beyond the ordinary consciousness we reside in most of the time. When we’re talking about oracular knowledge, knowledge emerging from the unconsciousness, we are exploring states that can’t otherwise be picked up. Tuning into psychological fields has an oracular quality; you’re registering things that you might otherwise not acknowledge. One example from Jung was his story of talking to a friend who was a mountaineer. This man laughed at his dream, in which he was climbing and walked off the side of a mountain into thin air. Jung told him to be careful with great urgency. Nevertheless, three months later, the guy walked off a mountain, falling to his death. Jung understood there was something oracular in that dream that the man ignored.

…To be continued with Part II.

Visit our website for more information about Dr. Cambray's upcoming event FIELDING THE UNCONSCIOUS: THE ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF FIELD THEORY.

joe-2Joseph Cambray is CEO-President at Pacifica. He is also past President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology; he has served as the U.S. Editor for the Journal of Analytical Psychology and is on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Analytical Psychology and The Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche. He has been a faculty member at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, Center for Psychoanalytic Studies; adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Dr. Cambray is a Jungian analyst in Santa Barbara, CA. His numerous publications include the book based on his Fay Lectures: Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe and a volume edited with Linda Carter, Analytical Psychology: Contemporary Perspectives in Jungian Psychology. Some of his recent papers include: “Cosmos and Culture in the Play of Synchronicity,” Spring Journal, Jungian Odyssey Series, 4, 133-147, 2012; “Jung, science, and his legacy,” in International Journal of Jungian Studies, 3:2, 110-124, 2011; and “Moments of complexity and enigmatic action: a Jungian view of the therapeutic field,” in Journal of Analytical Psychology, 56 (2) 296-309, 2011. Courses taught in the Jungian and Archetypal Psychology Specialization: Synchronicity and the New Science; Introduction to Depth Psychology; Jungian Psychology and Contemporary Healing II: Engaging Complexity and Diversity


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.


Topics: The Psyche, graduate school, Pacifica Graduate Institute, world issues, The Retreat at Pacifica, unconscious