Carl G. Jung on reductionism, and its implication on homo oeconomicus in the era of big data analytics

Carl Gustav Jung, on reductionism in science, with in my view, implications for the current dominant paradigm of theories of human cognitive development, and culture. Transcript from a 1990 documentary of Jung [1] based on his works [2, 3].

“Mythology is pronouncing of a series of images that formulate the life of archetypes. So the statements of every religion, of many poets and so on, are statements about the inner mythological process, which is a necessity because man is not complete if he is not conscious of that aspect of things. So you see, a man is not complete if he lives in a world of statistical truths, he must live in a world of his biological truth, that is his biological truth that is not merely statistics. Yet our natural science makes everything into an average, reduces everything into an average, and of course, all the individual qualities are wiped out. That of course is most unbecoming, it is unhygienic, it deprives people of their specific values where they are individuals. It deprives them of the most important experiences of their life where they experience their own value, the creative background of their personality and we think we are able to be born today with no history. That is a disease. That’s absolutely abnormal. Because man is not born everyday. He is once born in a specific historical setting, with its specific historical qualities and therefore he is only complete when he has a relation to these things. It is as if you were born without eyes and ears when you are growing up without connection to the past. From the standpoint of natural science, you need no connection to the past, you can wipe it out. And that is a mutilation of the human being.” [1: 45:43-49:25]

What can be understood from Jung’s perspective on scientific reductionism is that what is needed for a deeper understanding of human behaviour and the manner in which societies are managed, is not a static model of averaged cultural / value constructs, but rather an integrated framework of perspectives that allows for individual nuances even within aggregated group values.

At the minute of publishing this post on Jung and his thoughts on scientific reductionism, came an article via email by Joergen Oerstroem Moeller [4] in argument for the field of economics to re-conceptualise its current economic models for global distribution of resources in the context of the availability of big data analytics. One of Moeller’s parallel contention is that the future of economic theory might need to shift from single- to multi-perspectived, deductive to inductive approach in order to comprehend and further theorise about human behaviour in a more accurate manner.

With Moeller’s observation that mass consumption is being replaced by mass communication, I found it an interesting complementary correlation that Jung in the field of psychology had in the mid-1900s called for a more nuanced approach towards the understanding of human psychology and its resulting behaviour, so that knowledge of reconciliation, of equilibrium finding will come from across disciplines, from an interdisciplinary approach to human understanding of themselves, and how we manage our environments.

“The combination of economics’ current problems and findings in other social sciences undermining or outright contradicting economic theory leaves no other option than bringing in interdisciplinary and intersectoral analyses. This kind of thinking highlights ability to combine and mix, predict consequences of doing something in one sector on other societal sectors and multitasking. Social networking finds its place by offering technology to combine information and knowledge without a deeper analysis and understanding. In short: A move from specialization to multitasking and combinations. The loser in this game is basic research and objectivity. The winner is multitasking and subjectivity.” [4:1283]

In my perspective, Jung’s observations about scientific reductionism and of human psychology from more than half a century ago falls right within the study of homo oeconomicus, where it is not that patterns in rationalities are not to be found, but rather that they are to be found within boundaries as defined by the observer, to be applied in a specific context for a specific purpose. The defining of observational boundaries, with intent (purpose) and objective (goal), would be the very function needed in the making sense of big data analytics, if big data is to be used in its predictive capacity in the study of human psychology and behaviour.

[1] Wagner, S. & Wagner, G. 1990 The World Within – C.G. Jung in His Own Words. Bosustow Video Production. Internet resource at Retrieved 28 Dec. 2015.
[2] Jung, C. G. 1983. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. Flamingo / Fontana paperbacks. London.
[3] Jung, C. G. & Shamdasani, S. 2009. The Red Book: Liber Novus (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
[4] Moeller, J. 2015. Economics Forged by Mass Communication and Scarcities. New Theoretical Framework—New Policy Prescriptions—New Scientific Thinking. Modern Economy, 6, 1279-1284. doi: 10.4236/me.2015.612121.