Psyche (book)

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Psyche (book).jpg
Author Carl Gustavus Carus
Original title Psyche, zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Unconscious mind
Publisher Flammer and Hoffman
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 85 (1989 Spring Publications edition)
ISBN 978-0882142036

Psyche (German: Psyche, zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele) is an 1846[1] book by Carl Gustav Carus, a physician and painter noted for his work on animal psychology and physiognomy. In his The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), Henri Ellenberger calls Psyche "the life-work of a physician and keen observer of the human mind" and "the first attempt to give a complete and objective theory on unconscious psychological life", adding that "It shows the shape reached by the theory of the unconscious at the end of the Romantic period, before the positivistic trend became dominant." He notes that Carus influenced Eduard von Hartmann and later Carl Jung. According to him, Carus defines psychology as "the science of the soul's development from the unconscious to the conscious" and believes that "human life is divided into three periods: (1) A pre-embryonic period in which the individual merely exists as a tiny cell within the mother's ovary. (2) the embryonic period; through fecundation, in which the individual is suddenly wakened from his long sleep, and the formative unconscious develops. (3) After birth, in which the formative unconscious continues to direct the individual's growth and the function of his organs. Consciousness arises gradually, but it always remains under the influence of the unconscious and the individual periodically returns to it in his sleep."[2]

Carus distinguishes between three layers of the unconscious: "(1) The general absolute unconscious, which is totally and permanently inaccessible to our consciousness. (2) The partial absolute unconscious to which belong the processes of formation, growth, and activity of the organs. This part of the unconscious exerts an indirect influence on our emotional life. Carus describes the 'districts of the soul' such as respiration, blood circulation, liver activity; each of these districts has an emotional tonality of its own and contributes to the constitution of the vital feeling underlying emotional life. Conscious thoughts and feelings also exert a slow and mediate action on the partial absolute unconscious; this explains why a person's physiognomy can reflect his conscious personality. (3) The relative or secondary unconscious comprehending the totality of feelings, perceptions, and representations, which were ours at one time or other and which have become unconscious."[2]

Carus ascribes the following characteristics to the unconscious: "(1) The unconscious has 'prometheic' and 'epimetheic' aspects, it is turned toward the future and toward the past but does not know of the present. (2) The unconscious is in constant movement and transformation; conscious thoughts or feelings, when becoming unconscious, undergo continuous modification and maturation. (3) The unconscious is indefatigable; it does not need periodic rest, whereas our conscious life needs rest and mental restoration which it finds by plunging into the unconscious. (4) The unconscious is basically sound and does not know disease; one of its functions is 'the healing power of Nature.' (5) The unconscious works along its own ineluctable laws and has no freedom. (6) The unconscious possesses its own inborn wisdom; in it, there is no trial and error, no learning. (7) Without being consciously aware of it, we remain in connection through the unconscious with the rest of the world, particularly with our fellow-beings."[2]

Lancelot Law Whyte calls Psyche "a great work" and "a landmark". He comments that while Carus, whose "penetrating interpretation of the unconscious mind was prejudiced by a somewhat sentimental idealistic and religious optimism", neglected the conflicts that were Sigmund Freud's main concern, he had "a vivid sense of the importance of the sexual functions, unconscious as instinct and conscious as voluptuousness, in relation to the mind as a whole."[1]



  1. ^ a b Whyte 1960. pp. 148-150.
  2. ^ a b c Ellenberger 1970. pp. 207-208.


  • Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-01672-3. 
  • Whyte, Lancelot Law (1960). The Unconscious before Freud. New York: Basic Books.