Psychic entropy

In psychodynamics, psychic entropy or psychological entropy is the effect of the second law of thermodynamics or of entropy in a psychological system.

The first treatise on the concept of psychic entropy seems to have been done by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, under the influence of his mentor Sigmund Freud, who had previously applied the first law of thermodynamics to the psyche. Jung had framed the outlines of his psychic entropy theory in 1912 and later published it in the 1928 paper “Über de Energetik der Seele” (About the Energetics of the Soul); translated in English that year as “On Psychical Energy”. [1] In his description of psychic entropy, after introducing the reader to the older history of the concept of psychic energy (1898), Jung begins with mentions of Sadi Carnot and Ludwig Boltzmann, and delves into a rather convoluted discussion of how the mind is, generally, a “relatively closed system”. To cite one example, Jung states:

“Since our experience is confined to relatively closed systems, we are never in a position to observe an absolute psychological entropy; but the more the psychological system is closed off, the more clearly is the phenomenon of entropy manifest.”

In a footnote on this statement, Jung says “a system is absolutely closed when no energy from outside can be fed into it; only in such a system can entropy occur.” As an example of this, he says that mental disturbances characteristic of intense seclusion from the environment, such as the dulling of affect in dementia praecox or schizophrenia, may very well be understood as the phenomenon of entropy.

In the 1960s, Hungarian-born student named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi accidently came to attend a lecture of Jung’s and from that point on decided to become a psychologist. Csíkszentmihályi went on, beginning in 1978, to incorporate Jung’s psychic entropy theory into a flow theory of optimal experience in positive psychology, where psychic entropy, in Csíkszentmihályi’s view, is interpreted as disorder in the consciousness or as mental states that produce conflict with individual goals. [2] In summarizing his view, Csíkszentmihályi states: [3]

“Emotions refer to the internal states of consciousness. Negative emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, or boredom produce ‘psychic entropy’ in the mind, that is, a state in which we cannot use attention effectively to deal with external tasks, because we need it to restore an inner subjective order.”

In the converse situation, he states: [3]

“Positive emotions like happiness, strength, or alertness are states of ‘psychic negentropy’ because we don’t need attention to ruminate and feel sorry for ourselves, and psychic energy can flow freely into whatever thought or task we choose to invest it in … therefore intentions, goals, and motivations are also manifestations of psychic negentropy. They focus psychic energy, establish priorities, and this create order in the consciousness.”

In a modern sense, to note, the term psychological entropy may be more apt, as the latter term "psychic" seems to carry negative connotations.

1. (a) Jung, Carl. (1928). “On Psychic Energy” (subsection C: Entropy), in On the Nature of the Psyche (1960). Princeton University Press.
(b) First published as “Über de Energetik der Seele” in a volume of the same title (Zurich, 1928), which was translated by H.G. and C.F. Baynes as “On Psychical Energy” in Contributions to Analytical Psychology (London and New York, 1928).
(c) The translators’ forward to the latter volume states that this paper “was framed soon after the author had finished the Psychology of the Unconscious [i.e. Wandlungenund Symbole der Libido, pub. 1912]. It was, however, pressed aside by the greater importance of the type-problem …, and, originally entitled “The Theory of the Libido”, was taken up again only last summer.
(d) The original version was republished, under the title, in Uber Psychische Energetic und das Wesen der Traume (Zurich, 1948).
2. Csíkszentmihályi, Isabella S. (1992). Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness (pg. 22). Cambridge University Press.
3. Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály. (1997). Finding Flow: the Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (pg. 22). Basic Books.

Further reading
Hall, Calvin S. and Nordby, Vernon J. (1973). A Primer in Jungian Psychology (section V: The Principle of Entropy, pgs 68-73). New York: Meridian Books.
● Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály. (1990). Flow – the Psychology of Optimal Experience (section: Disorder in Consciousness – Psychic Entropy, pgs. 36-39). Harper Perennial.

External links
● Subbanna, Sreenivasarao. (2009). “Meditation and Entropy”,

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