A Story of Opposites
As a child I grew up in a creative environment and loved making art in all sorts of ways: drawing, making houses out of cardboard boxes, modeling animals out of clay, or sewing imaginary characters and clothing. Picking a career should have been a no-brainer, I knew I wanted to become an artist, but then there was another side of me that also enjoyed anything that involved solving a puzzle: playing cards, backgammon, checkers, etc.
When introduced to math concepts in school, the idea that we could take little blue plastic blocks or numbers to represent any object then manipulate them to formulate and answer questions, or that there could be a relationship between this invisible universe and the material world, really intrigued me. Torn between art and math as a career choice, it seemed that studying math and making art on the side was more doable or likely to happen than the reverse, choosing art as a career and doing math on the side.
So I first went to school in engineering and specialized in applied mathematics. But as much as I enjoyed the research and solving problems, 3 years into my PhD I realized the more I got into this route the less time there would be to make art on the side. So I decided to make a change and try to make my work more visual.
The internet was then just beginning and with all the coding I did in math it was easy to become a web programmer. During that time I pursued design and later tried my hand at architecture. After 3 years I felt architecture involved more paperwork than design so I went back to the internet for a while, did more coding then visual design and during that time eventually took illustration courses online to finally dedicate myself to art.
Looking back on this path I often felt silly for having gone through so much detours and starting over instead of going straight into art. But now I think it’s perhaps exactly what I needed to do, because in the end I’m both an engineer and an artist, and the solution to my polarity isn't a one-sided choice. Even when trying to keep them separate the other side finds a way in: I solve problems like an artist - with intuition (waiting for the answers to come), and I do art like a scientist (researching and analyzing the whole darn thing). Society wants us to fit into one box, but I just can’t. And it doesn’t provide special boxes for people like me.
So the big question is: if there’s no boxes for me how do I resolve this conundrum? Carl Jung took the analogy of thesis-antithesis-synthesis and said that the resolution to the conflict of opposites is by way of the third, which he called the transcendent function. This function "progressively unites the opposites" and is the process of cooperation between conscious reasoning and the data of the unconscious.
About the Transcendent Function
As a process Jung referred to the transcendent function as “irrational”, “spontaneous”, “natural”, “gripping”, “difficult”, and “discursive.” It’s not "straightforward, it shifts, wanders in different directions, and as Jung points out "it doesn’t proceed without aim and purpose."
But while the transcendent function is a process that occurs spontaneously, it's also a method of conscious realization in that it acts as a bridge between consciousness and the unconscious. And for this we need unconscious material that occurs in the waking state: "ideas ‘out of the blue,’ slips, deceptions, lapses of memory, symptomatic actions, and spontaneous fantasies..."
But "the true labor, a work which involves both action and suffering, begins as the ego and the unconscious shuttles back and forth between this production of fantasies and the questioning of their meaning and purpose."
Much like the the rooster stuck on a weathervane or Larry in the Serious Man, we have to "allow the wind of the unconscious to have its way with us. The ego has to cede control but we don't like to do this! Most of the time, we submit to this process under duress: life doesn’t work well. The ego frets, it wants clear guidance, a sure path laid out for action."
"This stage doesn't happens on the ego's timetable but in accord with the Self. It involves a lot of waiting and suffering during which we must hold the tension between the opposites and not succumb to the temptation of easing our pain by going over to one side. But eventually, if one waits long enough, there is relief. Painful conflicts and neurosis get resolved, insoluble problems are outgrown, and new levels of being open up.
In sum, the transcendent function is a core component of what Jung termed 'individuation'—the work of unfolding of our original, potential wholeness.”
My Experience of the Transcendent Function
The unconscious material needed for the transcendent function in my case came with insights in the form of visual images, most often resurfaced from memory rather than produced by fantasy. And I used that material as inspiration to create symbolic drawings that allowed me to express both my artistic and scientific abilities.
But the most essential and difficult part was the several years of sitting on the weathervane and stirring in the wind while questioning the meaning and purpose of these drawings. The Rival in particular illustrates the problem of opposites I've been wrestling with all my life, notably in my career. Perhaps society didn't provide a box for me, but the larger problem maybe was that I wanted a box to begin with.
By being forced to hold the tension between art and technology throughout my career eventually not a box but a home appeared (this Oracle project), a place in which poetry and logic not only can coexist but also form a productive relationship, one in which both the aesthetic of art and the desire to produce a useful tool can live together.