Inward-Outward: Introductory thoughts on the subject

As a psychologist and philosopher there are not any words that seem more confusing to use in a psychological context than in and out. And yet these words are very important for people trying to understand themselves and who want to put their understanding into words they can use to communicate what they discover. The following list, taken as a whole, represents my latest and best attempt to illustrate and clarify the problem. The ideas in the list can be taken as a step by step exercise. (To me these opposite concepts are so important that I have written another article, Paradox 6: What is "In" & What is "Out"?, on a puzzle connected with inside and outside.)

1) If you look at a building from the outside, you will know that there are things inside the building, and you can see things outside of the building. You can stand outside the building and look in. If there is a table inside the building, then one thing is inside another (that is, the table is inside the building). You see the building, the table, and you see that the table is inside the building.

2) If you are inside a building while reading this and you look through a window, you can see that there are things outside, and you can also see that there are things inside the building, including yourself.

It makes a difference if you are inside or outside a building; on a day where it is freezing outside the difference can be life or death. It can even make a difference whether a table is inside or outside a building.

3) Now we know that kings have palaces and presidents live in their special houses into which most of us can never go. We are not allowed in these buildings. In so far as these places are the centers of control for much of our own activities, they are thought of as centers. Similarly, the Stock Exchange on Wall Street is sometimes called the financial center of the United States. In so far as we will never and can never enter into these centers, we are permanently outside them. And we may feel that we are outsiders, and some of us might resent it. In revolutions, the insurgents are often shown trampling through a palace or a governmental office into which they had always been forbidden to go. They break into the building and must have, at least for a moment, an exhilarating feeling of power, of being able to go where they want to go without any obstructions or armed guards or legal or social restrictions to keep them out.

4) We all know that people congregate in groups (both in and out of architectural structures). Some groups are accidental such as the group of people who are all buying groceries in a grocery store at the same time. Other groups are natural such as families or races. Still other groups are volitional and formed by agreement of the individuals who form them. Some of these groups look for outside people to join (such as the Catholic Church), where as others, such as the Ku Klux Klan or certain social and country clubs, make a point of excluding people from them. 

For many of these groups we speak of people being inside the group or of being outside it. In certain children's game there may be an actual, physical circle made up of some of the children. Other children try to break physically into the inside of the circle while the children in the circle try to keep them out.  

In adolescent and adult groups such as those described above, the inclusion and exclusion is not physical but, in some sense, emotional. In high school, children may feel out of it, that is, out of some social group or other even if they find themselves physically amongst the members. In fact, being among the members may accentuate the feeling of being out of it. This paradoxical situation highlights the fact that the way we have slipped into using in (the in-group) and out (the out-group) is metaphorical and not physical.

Though we can go on and on about this important topic (and I do in other places on this site), for the purposes of this short article, it is time to move on.

5) If you are now sitting in a building, there are, as already stated, things inside the building and things outside. If you are outside, as we say, then you and many other things are outside the building. There are many things inside the building and many more outside it, and you are either one of the things inside it or one of the things outside it.  

But whether you are inside it or outside it there are things inside your body and things outside your body. Your heart and liver and brain, your blood and bones and muscles and connective tissue, and so on, all these things are inside your body. If you are sitting inside a house, there is a heart inside your body that is, because it is inside your body, also inside the house. (To separate inside the body from outside it, as we are discussing now, it is helpful to shut ones eyes and then, after a while, open them again.)

Just as a house has an inside and an outside, the outside being finished to protect those in it from the environment as well as being decorated to look nice or to project a certain image, so too we have an inside and an outside to our bodies. And the outside of our bodies serve to contain and protect what is inside, and, at times, we decorate it to much the same ends as we finish our houses.

Just as there are doorways and windows and other "orifices" that allow what is in the house to get out and what is out of the house to get in but, at the same time, serve as boundaries to prevent undesirable elements from entering, so too with the body. There are holes or orifices that allow some things to go in and others to go out and that screen out at least some undesirable elements. (In this respect our bodies are like many other natural objects from plants and animals to individual cells to the planet earth itself: In all these there is an inside and an outside and "holes" that allow passage of things in and out.)

Just as you can be aware of the outside of a house and/or the inside of the house, so too can you be aware of the outside of your body and/or the inside of your body. You can see the skin on your hands and you can feel, if you stop what you are doing, the beating of your heart and the digestion taking place in your stomach and intestines, the flexing and relaxing of your muscles, and maybe even the pulsing of your blood in your veins.

If people place little or no value on themselves, it is possible to see themselves predominantly from the point of view of others. If a man sees himself from the point of view of his king, for example, he may come to see his body as the king would see it, as an external object that is more or less useful to the king. In this situation the man may come to think of his own body and his own insides as something external (to his king) and as something to be sacrificed for the well-being of the king and the kingdom.

6) Another metaphorical use of inside - outside is apparent when we see someone walking along, head down, lost in thought. We too, when we are having a powerful experience, might say to a friend, "I wish I could tell you what's going on inside me!" or "Something is going on deep inside me, but I can't put it into words." Someone may say he has images running through his head or that he has images in his head that he wishes he could paint. And, if he can paint them, express them, he may feel better. He feels he has made something invisible and private, visible and public, has taken what is only inside him and made it outside.

It was, perhaps, in this mood that Jesus told his disciples, at least according to the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you" (verse 70 from the online Gnostic Society Library edition, translation of Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer — my italics).  And it may be what leads us to say of a person that he has something stuck inside of him that he can't get out or even that he is stuck inside himself. Most of us know from our own experience what it's like to be lost, for a time, in our own imagination or fantasies or absorbed in our memories or in our plans for the future, wrapped up in our own thoughts, stuck in our minds. And we know that sometimes, but not always, we feel better if we can put our thoughts into words. 

In none of these examples is anything literally and physically going on inside a person. Inside is being used metaphorically. To put this another way, if you open a person up, inside you will find a heart and muscles but you won't find images and thoughts.

7) As implied in the last section, we speak of ourselves as having minds inside us. What is more, our minds, it can be said, can be divided into parts which implies that there are whole areas inside each of our minds. So if you can't get out of your anger, if you are stuck in your anger or your emotions or your sexual feelings, a friend might tell you they wish they could pull you out of the muck you are in so you can enter a different part of your self, a calmer more rational side of your personality.

And all day long we all go in and out of different states of consciousness. It's as if we go from one country to another, metaphorically speaking. We enter a deep sleep and then a dream state, and then we come out of our sleep and wake up and shake the sleepiness out of our heads and enter a state of waking consciousness, and then something happens that shocks us into a state of alertness.

8) We can build another level of complexity on what we have just said. We know that inside - outside is a nested concept in the sense that something can be inside something which is inside something else and so on. A building, for example, can have a room inside it, and the room can have a closet in it, and the closet can have a shoe in it, and so on.  

Now even the metaphorical in's and metaphorical out's can be nested. We can be in a dream, and in the dream we can be in a house, and in the house we can be in a room, and so on. And it can be even more complex than this. A patient told me a dream in which he was in the restaurant in the Four Columns Inn (a four star local restaurant). The chef was complaining to him about the trout. He was complaining that he couldn't kill and butcher them in the stream behind the inn because of government regulations. It seems to the chef that this is because the blood and guts and feces are considered impure by the government, and so no one is allowed to catch or treat fish from or in the stream. The government does not want the impurities to get into the pure river. The chef is upset and angry, because his customers now feel they are not getting the purest and best fish possible, that is, fresh from the stream. The customers want fish that have been in the stream and have just come out.

If the reader will allow me to introduce an approach to dreams that I have not justified in this article, it is part of Christian iconography that Christ is a fish. And if we add that streams or rivers of naturally running water are places for baptism or purification from all the impurities of ones life to date and for a rebirth, then we might think of the patient as going to the Four Columns Inn (by the way, the inn has four columns that are copies of Greek columns) in order to be purified, to be reborn, to find the fish of eternal life, but that there is something about the operation that is not correct and is forbidden by the government. (Perhaps, for one thing, a restaurant where the patient goes to enjoy himself and to have a treat for the senses may not be a place where he can find the fish. It is not through taste and smell and fancy decor and pleasure or through dressing up and spending a lot of money that the patient will find what he is looking for.)

Our form of government is democracy, but in Old Testament times there was no such thing as democracy. In place of democracy with its government, there were kings, and the Lord, Himself, as well as Christ are pictured as Kings. Applying this imagery to the dream, it is the Lord, Himself, who is forbidding the Inn from taking the fish out of the river to exploit it and sell it to customers. It is impossible for the chef to provide the dreamer with the fish.  

To put this another way, it is possible that the dream pictures a place that the dreamer is not allowed to enter and perhaps is not able to enter. Just as the White House or the palace of a King in the external or outer or physical world is forbidden to the dreamer, there is an area (the stream) inside his dream forbidden to the dreamer (that contains something that, presumably, can help him).

To put this still another way, there is a fish deep inside something, but this something is not in any building, not even in the palace of a king or a president, not in ones body, and not in ones thoughts or feelings or senses or in any physical stream. But it is somewhere, in some stream or other.

And, though it may be impossible to get it at all, if it is possible to get, it does not seem it is something that can be bought or attained by cleverness. How to gain access to these, so-called, inner things can be just as much a mystery as how to get access to certain outer things.

It is possible that, to continue with the language of our metaphor, there is an inner place into which no one can ever enterIn this place there may be contents that we can glimpse but never capture.

This sense of in and out leads to using the words inner and outer and leads to distinctions such as inner journeys versus outer journeys. And it leads naturally to the idea of two types of people, one type oriented towards the inner (Jung called them the Introverts) and the other being oriented to the outer (the Extroverts). For a certain type of person it is even natural to begin to speak of the inner world (or worlds) and the outer world, whereas people of a different type find this type of talk irritating and even appalling as it mixes metaphors and objective uses of the terms inner and outer.

9) There is one more step to make here. I have already discussed how, for people who think in this way, there are different parts of the mind, different areas in it. In 8) we talked about the imagination and, really, only about one part of it, the part (to use the language we are discussing) in which dreams take place. As already mentioned, another area of the mind is thinking. We all know that there are some people who we see as thinkers and some we see as dreamers. Though it is difficult to research this distinction scientifically, it is one we use in our everyday lives. To continue with the metaphors of in and out, dreamers often find themselves absorbed in their dreams or their memories of their last night's dreams, whereas thinkers find themselves absorbed in their thoughts.

This is all a repeat of what I said above. What I want to add now is that more than one person can think about the same thing at the same time. For example, a group of five psychologists sit in a room together discussing the effect of the nuclear power plant accident in Japan on their patients and on themselves. They are sitting facing each other and are looking at each other with their eyes, but, to an outsider, they appear to be looking past each other. It almost appears as if they are in a trance of some sort, a group trance. They are not asleep. They all are animated and appear to be working hard, but they all appear to be focused on something not in this world. And it is a group "something". They are all discussing an idea that, besides the fear of physical danger from radiation, they and their patients do not like the idea of the earth becoming contaminated.

One of the five psychologists proposes an idea, another disagrees, a third proposes a compromise idea, a fourth tweaks it a little, and it goes on and on until they reach some sort of agreement. They now have an idea in common. We say, metaphorically, that they have built something together. They built something just as surely as if they had built a house, but they built a new idea, a new concept in their minds, not in one mind or another or in all of the minds individually, but in all of their minds together. It is natural, I think, to say that there is a group mind or a collective mind and ideas and concepts appear in it just as surely as they appear and grow in individual minds. We also speak of the mind of a country or of a people, and possibly, of all humans.

Philosophically minded readers may ask if the concepts and ideas that pop into the minds of individuals or groups are independent of these people: "If there were no people on earth, would the idea of freedom or the concept of a planet still exist? There would still be physical planets, but would there be the concept planet?"

Without trying to answer this question here, I will point out that the same question has been raised about the physical world itself. Many readers will remember the old philosophical question raised by Bishop Berkeley (see article on the subject) (for whom the city of Berkeley in California was named) of whether a tree in the park would continue to exist if no one is thinking about it.

We should not be surprised that people say that there are different worlds or realms, inner realms and outer ones, and that some people think one realm is the real one, whereas others think of the other realm as the real one.

To throw in another complexity, not only do people speak of a realm of concepts and a realm of dream images, but, some say, there is also a realm of numbers, a world of music, and so on. We see people who seem to be lost in or absorbed in the world of numbers or in the world of music as completely as others are lost in the world of concepts or in the world of dream images or in the outer, physical world (to quote Charles Darwin who was not a mathematician: "A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there."

And these are not single individuals who are lost in their individual inner worlds. They are parts of groups of people who, it might be said, participate in the collective world of numbers or music or concepts or dream images. These worlds seem of no substance or value, unreal, to those not in them and of great importance and value to those who are.

Einstein expressed his position by saying,

"Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever."

And John Adams wrote: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy ..."

In this age of computers, it is important to mention those who are absorbed in group computer games. These can be compared to people of previous ages who were called book worms, people who appeared to others to be lost in books.

It may be easier now to state a view of Jung: There is an objective world that contains in it the collective images of humanity. When each of us dreams, our individual dream images appear in us, but these individual images are only instances just as two individual circles drawn in the sand are just two individual instances of circles.

As I said, how people view the ideas expressed in 9) and even how they express them depends, in part, on their natural orientation, on what seems real to them.

So people will react differently to the following statement: We humans are right in the middle between two realities. One is outer and one is inner. Both are real and both are objective. If we ignore either, we can get into serious trouble. But, however we feel comfortable putting this, whatever language we might feel is the best to use, the underlying idea is, I think, both true and critically important for individuals and for those around them.

10) There is another even stronger statement of this last view. If we take the phrase outside of us to mean, out of the control of our will, then it is possible say (without paradox) that the things we find when we go outside (that is everything under the sun and the stars), that these things are outside us (that is, out of our control); but also that, if we go deep enough into ourselves, we will come across a world (of concepts and numbers and images) that is also outside of ourselves (that is, out of our control); that there are two worlds outside of ourselves, that is, outside of our control.

This use of the word outside might help make sense of some of the enigmatic statements attributed to Jesus in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we mentioned above. For example, "... the Kingdom [of Heaven] is within you and it is outside you" (verse 3 — same translation).

It also makes it easier to state what Jung meant by Introvert and Extrovert. The Extrovert is a person who is involved in the world of the things he sees with his eyes and hears and tastes and smells. His likes and dislikes are of this world. His thoughts and plans and fantasies are about this world. His values are tied up with things of this world. The Introvert, on the other hand, is a person who spends his free time thinking about ideas and concepts and, maybe, numbers and dreams. He follows one thought to another towards some elusive goal that feels fascinating and of the utmost value and importance. The world of his senses never measures up and feels like a distraction. If he has to deal with it at all he will try to change it and mold it into how it should be, and he is always frustrated in this goal. The Extrovert is forever moving around and is not happy unless he is around things and people and is keeping busy. The Introvert is happiest when alone, in a dark room, with no lights or sounds or people to distract him from his thoughts and images.

Using the word outside as we are doing in this section, both the Introvert and the Extrovert, when functioning as described above, are involved in things outside themselves. Neither are lost in themselves or absorbed in themselves. Both are involved in worlds outside themselves; it's just that they are involved in different worlds.

11) Whatever we are involved in in the moment, there is always more to our situation. If you are reading these words and involved in the thoughts being expressed, you are still in a room (unless you are outside all man-made structures, outside, as we put it). If you are in the deepest of deep dreams, you are still in a room (or outside in nature). No matter how deep you are, no matter how mystical or spiritual or religious or intellectual, you still are somewhere in the coordinates of the physical world. And the physical is real as is shown by the people who have been killed while absorbed in some inner state (the classic example is of Archimedes who, according to one source, was so absorbed in his geometric figures that he did not take proper heed of the Roman soldier who came into his room and ran him through with his sword).

And, even if we are outside, fully active, maybe running around in the fresh air, we are still absorbed in thoughts and fantasies and, as it were, living out some inner unconscious dream. (Please see the article on Projection for some thoughts on the subject and a few examples — projection also being a Key Concept of psychology, as I see psychology).

We are always inside and outside at the same time, but we are only aware of certain aspects of our situations at any given time. We can get ourselves in trouble if our attention becomes stuck too deeply and too long in any one "realm". 

Even if I say that there are two different "realms," this does not mean I am saying that they are unrelated. They are interlocked in a way that is very difficult to understand. Mathematicians who were absorbed in the world of numbers were on the team of men who invented the atomic bomb that has affected the physical world in which we all live. — Einstein's question is relevant:

"How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things."

And people of great inner vision come up with the ideals and plans that we all try to live by.

And the mystery goes the other way also: How is it that the events of our outer, everyday lives appear in our dreams and thoughts and get transformed into all sorts of new theories and ideals and plans and visions?

Last thought on the subject — for now

The complications arising from talking about this subject are endless and tangled and are beyond the scope of this particular article, but it seems to me so important for any person who is involved in serious self-examination that I will return to them over and over again in the writings on this site. The thoughtful reader will already have come up with a flood of reasonable and difficult questions on the subject.