Images Are Prior To Experience

Images Are Prior To Experience

Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis, by

Johann Heinrich Füssli

In the beginning is the image; first imagination then perception; first fantasy then reality…Man is primarily an imagemaker and our psychic substance consists of images; our being is imaginal being, an existence in imagination. We are indeed such stuff as dreams are made on (James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 23).

Prior to our perceiving anything in this world, there are images that create our reality. Jung said, “The psyche creates reality every day.” Our consciousness is totally dependent upon this vast storehouse of images we call Soul. Soul is Image and Image is Soul. The only way we experience anything in this world is because of our ability to imagine. We imagine and create constantly. Our consciousness would not exist without images. Images are the irreducible elements inherent in all animatter. At bottom, all is Image.

British philosopher, John Locke, claimed we are, at birth, a tabula rasa, a blank slate. He meant we are born without any innate psychological content. Locke proposed that all knowledge derives from empirical experience and perception. This is an egregious error. We are all born with a foundation of archetypal, imaginal content that is innate to our species.

Carl Jung claimed the archetypes are much like instincts. According to Jung, the archetypes are analogous to human instincts in that they are images of the instincts. They are inborn and unlearned, just like instincts. And just as instincts evolve from repeated experiences of a species, so have the archetypes evolved in the human species from repeated inner experiences. For example, the archetype of the hero, which Joseph Campbell spent considerable time writing about, is a process that is seen in all cultures, and which seems to have evolved as a means of overcoming what we call schizophrenia. According to Campbell (who is quoting a Dr. John Perry), the way a schizophrenic loses touch with reality and turns inward corresponds to the mythical journey of the hero, who

ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men (Joseph Campbell. Myths to Live By, p. 209).

In the human experience, there arises an image in the imagination, one that is distinct from a daydream type of image (Henry Corbin would call a daydream image imaginary.) The image arises from unconsciousness to our conscious awareness. Many times, the images become metaphors in myth and literature, or are brought to life in works of art, or make their way into our moods and impulses. These images come to light in personified form as the heroes and villains of myths and legends. They also come to life through us, sometimes possessing our personalities. I am thinking here of someone like Adolf Hitler, who I believe was in the grip of a collective Shadow archetype.

Hillman says, “To live psychologically means to imagine things” (ibid.). Images are ordered by the archetypes. At their behest, images travel down particular, patterned pathways, motifs and mythologems. These ancient Gods constellate around certain mythemes, from which the world’s great stories, fables, and sagas have been created.

Our lives are living metaphors. We all have a story. We all have a vault of images from which our particular world is fashioned. Our story is created by the archetypes, but it is up to us to bring it into manifestation. In order to do so, we must ponder the images, our personal dreams and imaginings, and act on them until they attain plasticity.

7 thoughts on “Images Are Prior To Experience

  1. Seems like Jung's attempt to answer the 'Kantian Paradox'. I would be hesitant to believe that Images are the irreducible elements when they seem to be more or less an elusive moment of coherence abstract from a much broader sensuousness.

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    The irreducible image is not some whimsical daydream that one happens to have, brought on by some selfish desire. The irreducible image is a living Person in mythic form, such as the archetypal Mother, or the Wise Old Man archetype. These ancient beings have evolved just as the human body has evolved.


  3. Hi Mark, 1st time on your great site!! Question: You have 2 quotes from Hillman-is the 2nd one also from the same source? Glad to have found this site!
    Best, and Thanks for your work here-Ruth @LIVMINDFUL

  4. Mark, Great writing. After the read, I just wanted to thank you for bringing our attention to the image and the importance of imagination. You have presented a topic that allows for metaphors to be an engaging medium for a more interpersonal expression. From the images of dreams, fears, etc., we can experience the emotional influence of myth as you had stated, “we all have a story”.

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