“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”

This is the answer the renown and revered psychologist Carl Gustav Jung gave to the final question posed to him by the British interviewer, John Freeman, in 1959.

I offer here my transcript of the final nine minutes of the Youtube video of the interview. I have added a few [clarifying words] and have indicated where the audio was unclear.

Carl Gustav Jung

Jung: … [regarding current dreams of war] We are so full of apprehensions, fears, that one doesn’t know exactly to what it [the dreams] points. One thing is sure: a great change of our psychological attitude is imminent. That is certain.

Freeman:  But why?

Jung: … because we need more understanding of human nature because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil.

Freeman: well, does man, do you think, need to have the concept of good and evil to live with; is it part of our nature?

Jung: Well, obviously.

Freeman: … and of a redeemer? Does man, do you think, need to have the concept of sin and evil to live with, is this part of our nature?

Jung: That is an inevitable consequence.

Freeman: This is not a concept which will disappear as we become more rational, it’s something…

Jung: Well, I don’t believe that man ever will deviate from the original pattern of his being. There will always be such ideas. For instance, if you do not directly believe is a personal redeemer, as it was in the case with Hitler, or the hero worship in Russia, then it is an idea, it is a symbolic idea.Freeman: You have written… sentences which have surprised me a little bit about death. In particular, I remember you said that death is psychologically just as important as birth, like it’s an integral part of life, but surely it can’t be like it’s an end.

Jung: Yes, if it’s an end, and there we are not quite certain about this and because, you know, there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche that, it isn’t entirely confined to space and time. You can have dreams or visions of the future; you can see around corners; and, such things only ignorance in denies these facts. You know, it’s quite evident that they do exist and have existed always. Now, these facts show that the psyche, in part at least, is not dependent upon these confinements. And then what? When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space alone, and obviously it doesn’t, then to that extent the psyche is not separated to (sic) those walls and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.

Freeman: Do you, yourself, believe that death is probably the end, or do you believe…

Jung: (Interrupts, thinks out loud, briefly, for the right response) … well I, you can’t say… you see the word ‘belief’ is a difficult, difficult, thing for me. I don’t believe; I must have a reason for certain hypotheses. Either I know a thing and then I know it; I don’t need to believe it. If I… I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing a thing just for the sake of believing it. I can’t believe it! But, when there are sufficient reasons to form a certain hypothesis, I shall accept. [unclear] issues naturally, as you say, we have to reckon with the possibility of so-and-so, you know.

Freeman: You told us that we should regard death as being a [unclear] illusion, that the [unclear] away from it is to evade life (Jung: yes) what advice would you give to people in their later life to do this when most of them must, in fact, believe that death is the end of their movie?

Jung: Well. You see, I have treated many old people and it’s quite interesting to watch what the unconscious is doing with the fact that it is apparently threatened with a complete end. It disregards it!  Life behaves as if it was going on. And so, I think it is better for old people to live on, to look forward to the next day as if he had to spend centuries. And then he lives properly. But when he is afraid, when he doesn’t look forward, or that he looks back he petrifies, he gets stiffened, he dies before his time. But when he is living on, looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then he lives. And that is what the unconscious is intending to do, Of course, it’s quite obvious that we are all going to die and this is the sad finale of everything, but nevertheless there is something in us that doesn’t believe it, apparently, but this is merely a factor as I (struggles for a phrase) does it mean to me that it proves something? It is simply so. For instance, I may not know why we need salt, but we prefer to eat salt because you feel better. And so, when you think in a certain way you may feel considerably better. And if, I think, you think along the lines of nature then you think properly.

Freeman: And this leads me to the last question that I want to ask you. As the world become more technically efficient it seems increasingly necessary for people to behave communally and collectively. Now do you think it’s possible that the highest development of man may be to submerge his own individuality in a kind of collective consciousness?

Jung: That’s hardly possible. I think there will be a reaction. The reaction will setting (sic) against this communal dissociation. You know, man doesn’t stand forever his nullification. (At some time) there will be a reaction and I see it setting in. You know, when I think of my patients, they all seek their own existence, and to assure their existence against that complete atomization into nothingness or into meaninglessness. Man cannot stand a meaningless life.

I recommend the reading of Jung’s autobiography: Memories, Dreams, Reflections