Cultural Consequences of Jung’s Ideas and the Rise of Behaviorism

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science

By Steven Gimbel, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

Jung’s views on reality and the collective unconscious had a great impact on the cultural views in mid-20th-century America. Jung’s ideas profoundly influenced the rise of counterculture in the 1960s. Inspired by the political movements of the time, namely the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement, the hippie movement embraced the back-to-the-land movement and combined all of them.

Education psychology and educational neuroscience learning relationship technology as a 3D illustration.
LSD was consumed to connect to the collective unconsciousness. (Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

Cultural Revolution and Breaking Social Norms

Now the Cultural Revolution highlighted questioning and breaking social norms as well as using mediation or psychedelic drugs to affect one’s psychology.

The counterculture promoted the use of lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD. It had a peculiar effect on the psychology of human beings, which was fascinating for users and psychologists. Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist, believed that drugs with hallucinogenic effects helped humans to free themselves of the ego and connect with the collective unconscious. He posited that the eventual outcome was enlightenment and wisdom.

It was not the first time such claims were made regarding the psychological effects of such drugs. The book The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley had also put forth the same idea a decade earlier. The title was adopted from a quote from Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” He was referring to the effects of his drug mescaline and posited that it cleared away the ego and allowed us to get in touch with the collective subconscious, which leads to our connection with all humans and the whole universe.

American author Ken Kesey combined the use of LSD as the gate to reality and human interconnectedness, which manifested through synchronicities. He used the term acid tests to evoke synchronicities and wisdom by gathering bevies of people using LSD at the same time.

This is a transcript from the video series Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

He realized that music had a significant influence on the atmosphere. So, he invited the Warlocks, an experimental rock band from San Francisco, to play at their meetings. The band decided to change their name with the help of synchronicity. So they opened a random page of the Britannica World Language Dictionary and chose ‘The Grateful Dead’.  

In addition to their name, they based their whole approach on the collective unconscious. They mostly improvised their songs to create mutual influences between the musicians and the audience. They hoped that the collective consciousness would guide their creativity, allowing them to compose spontaneously.

The music was composed by all the members of the collective consciousness and not just by one consciousness. No member was in charge of the music, and it was the product of all minds present at the event.

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Behavioral Psychology: A Response to Mystical Applications of Jungian Movement

Mainstream psychology was concerned that these elements of Freudian and Jungian psychology would be popularized in the same way that alchemy had popularized chemistry. It was turning into pseudo-science with the presence of mystical and magical elements. The unconscious and collective unconscious put forth by Freud and Jung were not accessible for empirical investigations. Those who were in search of a scientific study of the mind could not accept such ideas. So, they sought a new approach and found behaviorism.

Image of index fingers pointing to something shaped like the brain which is lit up.
Behavioral psychology rejected the study of mind as it is intangible and cannot be measured. (Image: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

Behaviorism sought to deal with psychology like an exact science, dismissing any element that was invisible or intangible. The mind and what is inside it cannot be seen or measured, so we cannot speak of it. The only things that are visible and observable are the stimulus and response.

Those ideas were inspired by logical positivism, a philosophical movement born out of the theory of relativity. Einstein himself was influenced by Ernst Mach, the 19th-century physicist and philosopher, who contended that science must be based on the observable. Anything that cannot be observed or measured has to be rejected. Therefore, such ideas as the id, the mind, the collective unconscious had to be dismissed since they could not be measured through concrete evidence.

If psychology wanted to be treated like real science, it would have to do away with the study of feelings and vague memories. It had always been regarded as a science with softer foundations.

Pavlov in 1935, by Mikhail Nesterov.
Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for making dogs salivate upon hearing the sound of a bell. (Image: Mikhail Nesterov/Public domain)

The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov taught dogs to salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. For this work, he won the noble prize. It was different from training dogs to sit down as it was a purely anatomical response. This form of operant conditioning helped measure the rigorous links between stimulus and response. Both stimulus and response could be measured and observed with no connection to the immaterial mind. Here, the connection between humans and the environment was determined.

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Common Questions about Cultural Consequences of Jung’s Ideas and the Rise of Behaviorism

Q: What is behavioral psychology?

Behavioral psychology holds that psychology is not the study of the mind as it cannot be seen and measured. Instead, it deals with the study of human responses and behaviors to environmental stimuli.

Q: What did the 1960s counterculture embrace?

Inspired by Jung’s ideas, the 1960s counterculture sought to break long-standing social norms through the use of psychedelic drugs, meditation, and connecting with the collective unconscious. The use of LSD was promoted as it was believed to affect human psychology.

Q: What is logical positivism?

Logical positivism was the philosophical ramifications of the relativity theory. It held that if anything is to be considered a science, it has to deal with the observable and tangible. If something cannot be measured, it is not science.

Q: What is Ivan Pavlov’s contribution to psychology?

Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, discovered operant conditioning. He made dogs salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. It was an indication of the rigorous connection between the stimuli.

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