Psyche and Brain

An Interview with Jenny L. Yates by Joel Weishaus

Jenny L. Yates is Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Atkinson Endowed Chair in the Humanities, and is Chairperson of Religious Studies, Human Nature and Values, at Wells College, Aurora, NY. She received an MAR from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, holds a Diplomate as a Jungian Analyst from the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, and is a faculty member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, International Association of Jungian Analysts. Dr. Yates is the author of Psyche and the Split-Brain (University Press of America: Lanham, MD., 1994), co-editor (with Lee Bailey) of The Near-Death Experience, Routledge: New York, 1996), and Editor of, Jung on Death and Immortality (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.,1999.) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Joel Weishaus is a poet, editor, literary critic, and web-specific writer. He is a contributor to The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Mythosphere, and other journals. Weishaus lives in Portland Oregon. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This interview was conducted via e-mail, February-March 2001.

Joel Weishaus: Jenny, when we met in Albuquerque, where you were attending a Jungian conference, we briefly discussed your work with Roger Sperry (1) on spilt-brain research, on which you subsequently wrote a book. How, and why, did you become interested in neuroscience?

Jenny Yates: After completing a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale Divinity School, I moved to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I went to the University employment office to see what jobs were available that I might do. The results of a test that they gave me led to my being offered one of two jobs, either a physics librarian or a Neurological/Neurosurgical social worker! I chose the latter and began on the job training by making daily rounds with the Neurologists and Neurosurgeons.

My task was to discern how the brain diseases would affect the mind of the patients and assist them with any changes needed in their life. Through this year of work I met the psychosomatic consultation team of three psychiatrists (two of whom were Freudian analysts). They hired me away from the Neurology department to assist them. Both positions involved discerning the relation of the mind/brain or mind/body.  Hence I moved from the philosophical study of the mind/body interaction to its practical application. After returning to complete my Ph.D., I was appointed to teach philosophy and religion at Wells College. Naturally, one of the courses I have taught is the Philosophy of the Mind, which addresses the mind/brain interaction.

In the summer of 1984 I was studying at the Jung Institute in Zurich, musing one day over the unanswered questions about the relation between the unconscious and the brain hemispheres. Playing, I decided to ask the I Ching if the right hemisphere of the brain was the way the archetypes of the collective unconscious were processed. I received #1 leading to # 2, which I interpreted to mean the move between the origin of the Forms and their manifestation in reality. I decided to write Roger Sperry to ask if I could come to his lab at Cal Tech to observe his split-brain research. I was astounded to receive an immediate reply saying he had just written an article "In search of Psyche?", and could I come that Fall Semester. He appointed me a Visiting Associate in his lab. Our agreement was that if I would teach him the history of philosophical views of the mind/brain relation, he would teach me split-brain research.

We spent an hour a day together. Over the years I returned to re-run my tests. This work became my thesis to graduate as a Jungian Analyst in 1992. In 1994 the work was published as Psyche and the Split-Brain, and dedicated to Sperry just before his death. The second dedication was to C. A. Meier (2), who directed my Zurich thesis.

JW: There are several points you bring up that I’d like to ask you to elaborate. First. A few months ago, someone from a small town in Oregon phoned me. He has written a book on a theory he has about where the Jungian archetypes reside in the brain, or at least this is what I got from what little he told me. As you mention a similar interest, could you discuss this further? Do you still believe that the archetypes are "processed" in the right hemisphere; and, if so, to what end?


JY: In my book, I reported my findings. When I showed symbolic images to the right hemisphere of the split-brain individuals, they reported seeing images with parallel symbolic meaning rather than the image at hand. This is the basis of archetypes, which are patterns of symbols. The particulars may vary but the meaning stays the same. Scientists had thrown away many right hemisphere observations because the scientific empirical perception is the method of knowing of the left hemisphere. It sees a particular thing but not the pattern. The pattern is supplied from the right. The implications are that the nondominant hemisphere functions to process the unconscious patterns or archetypes.

JW: Do you mean by "nondominant" that the left hemisphere is predominant?

JY: In general, although there are many exceptions, the left hemisphere is the main one used today for processing information. For men, the left usually has to shut out the function of the right in order to specialize on one thing or focus. I suspect the one least in use is processing the "unconscious" material. Women can more easily move between the hemispheres.

JW: Michael Gazzaniga, who also worked with Sperry, wrote recently that because the left hemisphere "is constantly looking for order and reason, even when there is none---which leads it continually to make mistakes. It tends to overgeneralize, frequently constructing a potential past as opposed to a true one."(3) This sounds like a male tendency, at least for now. Do men tend toward their left hemisphere? If so, why? How does one’s sex skew lateralization?


JY: Yes, Gazzaniga was one of Sperry's first associates. First, in response to constructing a past, as opposed to a true one: In my research reported in Psyche and the Split-Brain, I reported on left and right hemisphere responses to naming the fairy tale when shown a specific image from the tale. An illustration is: When the left hemisphere of the male split-brain individual saw the nose of the wolf along with Little Red Riding Hood, he named the tale as Pinnochio, focusing only on the nose. This has major implications for free association with specific images in analysis. Secondly, as to the reason men tend toward left dominance: While working with Sperry we discussed the issue of the progressive lateralization of the brain. If women reach puberty first prior to total lateralization they could more easily move between. Men reaching the onset of puberty at a later age would have lateralized more. I have not read recently if this view has been proved or disproved. It is sexist to assume lateralization superior to the ability to use both sides.

JW: I’d like to return to the other side of the ocean, to Zurich. So many psychologists have attended the Jung Institute, the history of it requires a book! But, briefly, what were some of your impressions of the place and people when you were there?

JY: Analysis is the deepest experience of one's training in Zurich. One learns to appreciate people totally other than oneself in the process of integrating the other within. If one projects the other within, it leads to rejection of the other without. Even if one has a negative projection, one learns at the deepest level to appreciate the one or ones who carried that energy for you until you could carry your own baggage. You also learn how your complexes have determined those whom you love. Clearing the fog opens love of those whom one would not have thought attractive human beings.
If the analyst is clear where you need light, you can walk across the bridge until you find the inner light. To become an analyst is to learn to care for the real person behind her complexes and in so doing help her care for herself.

Secondly, one's friends during the analytical training guide you to your inner friends of the psyche. I especially appreciated one of my female friends from India. I felt most at home with her strangely enough. She had lived in London for awhile and bridged West and East. I was coming from the other direction building the same bridge. With that bridge I was deeply affected when I attended the Dalai Lama's Wheel of Time ritual in Rikon, Switzerland. When you encounter in the outer world a person of his compassion, it multiplies the inner journey one thousand fold. When I became an analyst, he set up his Namgyal Monastery across from my analytical office.

JW: As the word "bridge" refers back to pontiff, it's interesting that you use the allusion with reference to the Dalai Lama, whom I--and you, from what you say--don't think of as being the least bit pontifical, but as envisioning a different sort of bridge, one not built on the concept of a God, but the flowing forth of human compassion. I'm not familiar with the Wheel of Time. What is there about this particular ritual that made you feel it so deeply?

JY: The root of pontiff via pons links to the bridge, as in the brain. But the root of bridge is 'brow' as in third eye. The Wheel of Time is an initiation ritual for Bodhisattvas, beings who could enter Nirvana but decide to return and teach others. The Bodhisattva of Compassion is Avalokitesvara, of whom the Dalai Lama is an incarnation. He feels that all human beings may benefit from the ritual. I am not a Buddhist, but see the path of enlightenment comparable to Jung's view of individuation. The Self, in Jung's view, may be represented by Buddha Nature, the Inner Christ, the Great Spirit, etc. The point is not to impose one's view of God or Non-God onto others. The Dalai Lama, for example, does not ask you to become Buddhist but to practice the love taught by your own religion.

JW: As I understand his position on this, the Dalai Lama also feels that if your motivation is to help people then you may borrow aspects of Buddhism, or any other religion, without being initiated into it. With this in mind, what is your religious background? I ask this to further ask how you came to be interested in religion and philosophy as a life-long practice.

JY: No, he taught that you should practice the compassion taught by your own religion, not pick and choose from others. My own Religious background is Christian, and I see Jesus' teaching of love of one's neighbor as the equivalent of the Buddhist teaching of compassion. I grew up in the South and lamented the confusion between cultural prejudice and Jesus' teaching of love. This is part of the motivation that led to combining the tools of reason to religion, eventually ending in my joint appointment as a Professor of Philosophy and Religion.

JW: How does Jungian Psychology help unravel cultural prejudice from original Christian tenets?

JY: Jung speaks of the move between being caught in the collective and individuation. Individuation means you have tried to recognize your own shadow traits rather than projecting them onto other races, religions, etc. If one does not own one's individual shadow, it may get caught in mass collective prejudice or the collective shadow. Christ is understood as the image of God, a mirror of the Self, or human wholeness, for Christians. Buddhists would speak of Buddha nature.

JW: In Phantoms in the Brain, V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee wrote: "When the Canadian psychologist Dr. Michael Persinger got hold of a (transcranial magnetic stimulator) a few years ago, he chose to stimulate parts of his temporal lobes. And he found to his amazement that he experienced God for the first time in his life." (4) Besides the humor of an eternal God located in the temporal lobes, for me, it also raises certain philosophical problems; such as, what does "God" signify in this statement? And, if Persinger never experienced "God" before, how did he know what he was experiencing? What do you think about God being located in an organ of the brain? What philosophical problems might this raise for you?

JY: This example does not prove that God is located in the brain. It simply stimulates the brain to produce its internal images. Likewise, I recently read Huston Smith's collected essays on the way chemicals stimulate visions of God (5). This simply says that this is access to the image of God within us, the image in which we are created. People confuse the mode of access with that to which it leads.
My deepest images of God have been in dreams. This is healthier than running the risks of damaging one's mind via artificial modes of access. I was talking to my students in a Psychology and Religion class this week about the turn from sex in the unconscious a century ago when Freud wrote to God in the unconscious today.

JW: I had the pleasure of meeting Huston Smith at a Science and Consciousness conference last year, a few months before Cleansing the Doors of Perception was published. He felt that the repression of what he calls "entheogenic" substances by the US government is oppressive and absurd, as many of these plants have been used for thousands of years for spiritual quests. I, too, feel that they have an important place in the exploration of human consciousness; although, at best, they should lead to the discipline of meditation. Many Westerners arrived at Buddhist and Vedanta meditation practices through experimentation with psychedelics.

Two questions: How do you use your dreams: is there an explicit method that you use? Secondly, am I understanding you correctly that you feel there’s been, since Freud’s time, a change in the unconscious (the Collective Unconscious?) from sex to God?

JY: In the appendix to the book Huston warns against the danger of drugs, a warning with which I agree. Meditation or dreams are a natural avenue to the unconscious without the dangers of side effects. I see our young people today in quest of deeper avenues to the interior world, often ending in addiction rather than enlightenment.

In response to how do I use my dreams: I have recorded every dream since the early seventies. I work on the link to the day residue to connect the wisdom of the unconscious to the way I live. Knowing symbolic meanings from all the world's religions and literature helps decipher messages at the level of the collective unconscious.

On the move from sex to God: I would not say it that way. Sex may or may not be repressed and thus showing in the unconscious. Our collective consciousness is not in the same place as when Freud wrote. However, today there is so much sex on television, etc. that it is hardly repressed. I do see many young people turned off by institutional religion or hypocrisy of religious people. For example, in the current news is FBI agent Hanssen, who has a religious persona covering a deep shadow. Yesterday, someone who claimed to be atheist dreamed of Jesus. This is what I mean by God has gone into the deep levels of the psyche, a point which Jung saw, in contrast to Freud's view of religion as an illusion. Going in search of meaning via the depths satisfies the spiritual hunger of many people today. Others go by way of meditation. Whichever works, use it.

JW: There are bookshelves filled with the "meaning" of one’s dreams. How do you deduce a valid interpretation of a dream?

JY: The language of your question: How do you deduce a valid interpretation, is the language of logic, not the language of dream interpretation. An argument is 'valid' if it follows the correct rules of logic; it may be valid but not true, for example. I begin with personal recollections from the day residue, one to two days, as it takes to seep down into the unconscious or long-range memory.

Then I seek to discern the changes created by the dream. Next I check objective meanings of the specific symbols in the dream. This is called "amplification." One decides which of the meanings apply by linking to the conscious residue. Never check meanings before one's own associations. But then, if one can recall no amplification from the world's religions, literature, mythology, etc., the best source is Ad de Vries’ Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery. Next, I ask about the feeling-tone in the dream. One may also use the structure of a drama to see how one's dream-maker cast the players to play the components of one's interior drama. What is the setting, time, and place? What is happening in the present that recalls this past scene? What is the plot? The climax? The solution?  Dream interpretation is an art, not logic. Finally, does the dreamer feel the interpretation fits. Then apply the wisdom from the night to the day world.

JW: You wrote that, "A striking finding from showing split-brain individuals symbolic images is that they did not report directly seeing the image at hand; rather they reported perceiving either a symbol with a similar meaning or the ‘interpreted’ meaning of the symbol as if that were what was directly perceived!" (p.90) It seems to me that there’s some kind of connection here with dream interpretation. Maybe tenuous; but interesting?


JY: Yes, that was what I set out to test. I interpreted the data as showing that the right hemisphere of the brain processes meaning and archetypes. The archetype is a basic pattern with the same meaning, but may appear as different symbols with the same or similar meaning. The left perceives particulars and the right the meaning pattern. This has far ranging implications for the interpretation of dreams. Also, one may review the history of Western philosophical epistemologies from Plato and Aristotle in the classical period to Descartes and Hume in the Modern period and Continental phenomenology vs. British positivism, in light of the way our two hemispheres process information.

JW: Does C.G. Jung’s typological model (thinking/feeling, intuition/sensation) figure into this in any way?

JY: If the referent of 'this' is the role of the two hemispheres in processing information: I gave the Grey/Wheelwright typology test to the split-brain patients in Sperry's lab. I could not lateralize the test however because the sentences are too long to be read by the right hemisphere's limited capacity for language. Hence I gave the test orally, which means that although the right hemisphere had access to it, the left responded. To get a lateralized control, I gave the test to a patient without a right hemisphere, i.e. surgically removed at age six. What was remarkable was his response corresponded to the left verbal responses of the two split-brain patients. All three were extroverted on the attitude type. The functional types were not as expected. Speculation puts intuition and feeling as right hemisphere and thinking sensate as left. This did not hold on empirical investigation. Although the left hemisphere responded, all three individuals were stronger on feeling than thinking. The woman split-brain patient was even between intuition and sensation, in accord with woman's stronger ability to move between hemispheres.

This material is published in Psyche and the Split-Brain. I discussed the need for a non-verbal test with Joe Wheelwright (6), while in California working with this test. I also suggested to the surgeon Joseph Bogen, who split the brains, that we should use PET scans as the patients did tasks. I made this suggestion in 1984, before this was common practice.


(1) Roger Sperry was a pioneer brain researcher, with roots in anatomy and psychobiology. In 1981, he shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for providing "an insight into the inner world of the brain, which hitherto had been almost completely hidden from us."
(2) C.A. Meier was an assistant to C.G. Jung, and is regarded as a foremost authority of Jung’s theories. He is the author of Soul and Body: Essays on the Theories of C.G. Jung. San Francisco: The Papis Press, 1986.
(3) Michael S. Gazzaniga, "The Split Brain Revisited. In, The Scientific American Book of the Brain. The Lyons Press: New York, 1999. p.136.
(4) V.S. Ramachandran and S. Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1998. p.175.
(5) H. Smith, Cleansing the Doors of Perception. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 2000.
(6) Joseph B. Wheelwright was a Professor of Psychology at The University of San Francisco. He, along with his wife, Jane, "made the first typology test, which I used." (J. Yates). Dr. Wheelwright worked at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute as a psychiatrist. He was also a Jungian analyist.

First image above is Frantisek Kupka's, "The Principle of Life" (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris), and is used in Psyche and the Split-Brain on page 10. The other two images are on page 44 of the book.

by Joel Weishaus

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