Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jung's exploding knife

In Jung's Letters, I came again upon the photo of an "exploded knife" that he sent to J.B.Rhine, the famous American researcher of extra-sensory perception, with his account of poltergeist-like phenomena that he experienced in 1898, when he was twenty-three.
   Jung reported that a steel bread knife exploded inside a locked cabinet while his aged mother was seated across the room and Jung himself was outside in the garden. The bang sounded like a gunshot. Nobody could understand it until they unlocked the cabinet and found that the knife had shattered into four pieces, now lying in a bread basket beside a loaf of bread, neither of which had been damaged. "The explosive force apparently did not exceed that amount of energy which was just needed to break the knife and was completely exhausted with the breaking itself." 1   
    Jung took the knife to a master cutler who inspected it closely under a magnifying glass and found no flaw in the metal. "The knife is perfectly sound," the expert informed him. "There is no flaw in the steel. Someone must have deliberately broken it piece by piece." When Jung denied that this could have happened, the cutler shook his head. "Good steel can't explode. Someone had been pulling your leg." 2
    Jung told Rhine that there was an equally noisy and mysterious incident within a few days. Again, there was a sound like a pistol shot. This time, the explosion came from an old and very solid round table. It was found that for no apparent reason the table top had split from the rim to beyond the center, three-quarters of the way across.
   Jung went to work as a psychic detective. He could not accept that the explosions were "only" coincidence any more than it would be "only" coincidence if the river Rhine were found to be flowing backwards.
    He decided that the explosions were connected with the emotional and psychic forces that were running strong in his relationship with his cousin Helene "Helly" Preiswerk, a natural medium with whom he had conducted seances since he was a teenager. They had suspended their sessions. The exploding knife and the self-splitting table persuaded Jung to resume them. His experiments with his cousin formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena."  Jung said quarter of a century later that the period of the seances "contains the origins of all my ideas."3
    In a 1934 letter to Rhine, Jung declared "I am highly interested in all questions concerning the peculiar character of the psyche with reference to time and space, i.e., the apparent annihilation of these categories in certain mental incidents."4
Jung kept the pieces of the exploded knife for the rest of his life. 5

1. Jung, Letter to J.B. Rhine 17 November 1934 in C.G. Jung, Letters 1:1906-1950 trans R.F.C.Hull ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) 181
2. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed Aniela Jaffe, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1965) 106.
3. Analytical Psychology, Notes of the Seminar Given by C.G. Jung in 1925 ed. W. McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) 6.
4. Jung, Letters I, 180.
5. Memories, Dreams, Reflections 105

Shelf Elf Moment

I wrote this note after rereading Jung's 1934 letter to J.B.Rhine and some material on the mediums in Jung's family. I realized that something was missing and I needed to go back to his account of the exploding knife in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I sighed over the probable need to page through the early chapters to find the passage I wanted. The book fell open at the right page, and the first line I read was the start of Jung's account of the exploded knife.

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