The Problem With Generalization

Before the industrial revolution, there had to be a scientific one. A period where theories had to be thought up and tested experimentally. The more a theory cannot be proved false, the more valid it is. The ability of a theory to solve a real-life problem is proportional to its impact on a global scale. Let’s just say that the industrial revolution was the culminating point in science where a bunch of problems were being solved. Since the industrial revolution, science has afforded humans with many conveniences. For that we were so grateful to lift science to the heavens, and rightfully so. Science has given us at least some understanding of the world; without science, testing theories is impossible, and we are just left with blind conjecture. 

Grounded in empiricism, science takes a sample and applies statistics to compute a mean. Accurate science is when the mean accurately captures the underlying reality. Accurately capturing reality is a difficult task to accomplish, therefore not all science that is published necessarily captures reality. It may capture reality under a certain set of conditions that are hard to replicate in the real world. 

“For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts.” Carl Jung

The above Carl Jung quote from his book, The Undiscovered Self, illustrates that computing a statistical mean is a generalization made for universal validity. As mentioned before, how close this mean is to reality dictates how universally valid it is. There is a fundamental issue in doing this because it strips away individual facts that exist towards the extremes and away from the average. Carl Jung likens this to an example of pebbles in the world each having an average mass of 500g and the low chance of picking one at random being exactly 500 g. This concept is important in all science but even more so in psychology according to Jung, who was perhaps the greatest psychological mind ever. A well-trained psychologist is forced to draw upon their scientific training while considering the individuality of patients. I would like to add that the patient be weary of this concept as well. It could help them avoid generalizing their condition in favour of doing the work of true self-discovery, which Jung states is purely individual in nature. 

“This results in a universally valid anthropology or psychology, as the case may be, with an abstract picture of man as an average unit from which all individual features have been removed. But it is precisely these features which are of paramount importance for understanding man.”

An interesting expansion of the quote above was made by Jung towards the end of the first chapter of The Undiscovered Self. He exclaimed that the state and its policies were the main purveyors of universal validity. Through doing this, both its spokesmen and adherents are stripped of their individuality. Subscribing to this information is much like accepting blind conjecture without the experimentation. The phrase “question everything” has been popular nowadays, but unless one is actively discovering or experimenting, it means turning to the internet and social media for blind faith. Humans tend to form generalizations. This piece I’m writing is full of generalizations about the nature of science and the message Carl Jung was trying to get across in the book. Generalizations are not a bad thing; in fact, they help one ease their confusion. However, subscribing to all-encompassing generalizations lead to all the polarization we see in the world today.

“Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies.” 


Carl Jung was way ahead of his time given that he wrote this in the 1950s. It may have been true in the 50s, but it is certainly evident to me today. When polarizing conjecture has a footprint in society, emotional attachment to it is like imprinting that foot upon cement. Letting this play its course over the past couple years and we now see that society is filled with division. However, I think a time is near when blind conjecture is replaced with truth. A time where we make generalizations without failing to consider the extremes and their valuable individuality. 

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