Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious

The Collective Unconscious

Human beings copy each other (and we even emulate nature), whether we are conscious of this behavior or not. We parrot and echo each other and this is basic human nature. There is a difference between empty or unconscious parroting and consciously doing so. One would think master artists would be conscious of the influences that drive their behavior and work, but the human mind is a powerful natural phenomena that seems to have a potent unconscious component that simply cannot be dismissed so easily. Things like crowd behavior and advertising rely on the power of the unconscious mind. Language learning and other developments during childhood are also example of unconscious processes. Artists have always made use of subtleties to manipulate and to emotionally engage audiences. The concept of the collective unconscious seems to get confused with magical thinking and reasoning. The reality is that much of our behavior can be categorized as unconscious. When we learn a new skill, for example, we are very conscious of what we are attempting to do; and as we develop mastery, a lot of what we learn becomes sense memory programed into us so we no longer need to exert as much conscious effort to perform the skill we now have mastered. In fact as one gets exposed to more information one simply has more resources to use to craft art, architecture, music, poetry and the rest. Happy unconscious or semiconscious accidents are bound to happen. 

"Collective unconscious... a term coined by Carl Jung, refers to structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. According to Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by instincts and by archetypes: universal symbols such as the Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, the Tree of Life, and many more.

Jung considered the collective unconscious to underpin and surround the unconscious mind, distinguishing it from the personal unconscious of Freudian psychoanalysis. He argued that the collective unconscious had profound influence on the lives of individuals, who lived out its symbols and clothed them in meaning through their experiences. The psychotherapeutic practice of analytical psychology revolves around examining the patient's relationship to the collective unconscious.

Psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Lionel Corbett argues that the contemporary terms "autonomous psyche" or "objective psyche" are more commonly used today in the practice of depth psychology rather than the traditional term of the "collective unconscious."

Critics of the collective unconscious concept have called it unscientific and fatalistic, or otherwise very difficult to test scientifically (due to the mythical aspect of the collective unconscious) for those faith-based scientists. Proponents suggest that it is borne out by findings of psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology."

source: Collective unconscious - Wikipedia

C. G. Jung in His Own Words: The Unconscious  source: The Alternity

The Structure of the Unconscious

"The name "collective unconscious" first appeared in Jung's 1916 essay, "The Structure of the Unconscious". This essay distinguishes between the "personal", Freudian unconscious, filled with sexual fantasies and repressed images, and the "collective" unconscious encompassing the soul of humanity at large. 

In "The Significance of Constitution and Heredity in Psychology" (November 1929), Jung wrote:

And the essential thing, psychologically, is that in dreams, fantasies, and other exceptional states of mind the most far-fetched mythological motifs and symbols can appear autochthonously at any time, often, apparently, as the result of particular influences, traditions, and excitations working on the individual, but more often without any sign of them. These "primordial images" or "archetypes," as I have called them, belong to the basic stock of the unconscious psyche and cannot be explained as personal acquisitions. Together they make up that psychic stratum which has been called the collective unconscious.
The existence of the collective unconscious means that individual consciousness is anything but a tabula rasa and is not immune to predetermining influences. On the contrary, it is in the highest degree influenced by inherited presuppositions, quite apart from the unavoidable influences exerted upon it by the environment. The collective unconscious comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings. It is the matrix of all conscious psychic occurrences, and hence it exerts an influence that compromises the freedom of consciousness in the highest degree, since it is continually striving to lead all conscious processes back into the old paths. 
On October 19, 1936, Jung delivered a lecture "The Concept of the Collective Unconscious" to the Abernethian Society at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London.  He said: My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. 

Jung linked the collective unconscious to 'what Freud called "archaic remnants" – mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual's own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind'. He credited Freud for developing his "primal horde" theory in Totem and Taboo and continued further with the idea of an archaic ancestor maintaining its influence in the minds of present-day humans. Every human being, he wrote, "however high his conscious development, is still an archaic man at the deeper levels of his psyche." As modern humans go through their process of individuation, moving out of the collective unconscious into mature selves, they establish a persona—which can be understood simply as that small portion of the collective psyche which they embody, perform, and identify with. 

The collective unconscious exerts overwhelming influence on the minds of individuals. These effects of course vary widely, since they involve virtually every emotion and situation. At times, the collective unconscious can terrify, but it can also heal."

source: Collective unconscious - Wikipedia

Carl Jung on Intuition   source: Gnostic Warrior


"In an early definition of the term, Jung writes: "Archetypes are typical modes of apprehension, and wherever we meet with uniform and regularly recurring modes of apprehension we are dealing with an archetype, no matter whether its mythological character is recognized or not."  He traces the term back to Philo, Irenaeus, and the Corpus Hermeticum, which associate archetypes with divinity and the creation of the world, and notes the close relationship of Platonic ideas. 

These archetypes dwell in a world beyond the chronology of a human lifespan, developing on an evolutionary timescale. Regarding the animus and anima, the male principle within the woman and the female principle within the man, Jung writes:

They evidently live and function in the deeper layers of the unconscious, especially in that phylogenetic substratum which I have called the collective unconscious. This localization explains a good deal of their strangeness: they bring into our ephemeral consciousness an unknown psychic life belonging to a remote past. It is the mind of our unknown ancestors, their way of thinking and feeling , their way of experiencing life and the world, gods and men. The existence of these archaic strata is presumably the source of man's belief in reincarnations and in memories of "previous experiences". Just as the human body is a museum, so to speak, of its phylogenetic history, so too is the psyche. Jung also described archetypes as imprints of momentous or frequently recurring situations in the lengthy human past."

source: Collective unconscious - Wikipedia


"Proof of the existence of a collective unconscious, and insight into its nature, could be gleaned primarily from dreams and from active imagination, a waking exploration of fantasy. Jung considered that 'the shadow' and the anima and animus differ from the other archetypes in the fact that their content is more directly related to the individual's personal situation'.[50] These archetypes, a special focus of Jung's work, become autonomous personalities within an individual psyche. Jung encouraged direct conscious dialogue of the patient's with these personalities within.[51] While the shadow usually personifies the personal unconscious, the anima or the Wise Old Man can act as representatives of the collective unconscious. Jung suggested that parapsychology, alchemy, and occult religious ideas could contribute understanding of the collective unconscious. Based on his interpretation of synchronicity and extra-sensory perception, Jung argued that psychic activity transcended the brain.[54] In alchemy, Jung found that plain water, or seawater, corresponded to his concept of the collective unconscious.[55]

In humans, the psyche mediates between the primal force of the collective unconscious and the experience of consciousness or dream. Therefore, symbols may require interpretation before they can be understood as archetypes. Jung writes: We have only to disregard the dependence of dream language on environment and substitute "eagle" for "aeroplane," "dragon" for "automobile" or "train," "snake-bite" for "injection," and so forth, in order to arrive at the more universal and more fundamental language of mythology. This give us access to the primordial images that underlie all thinking and have a considerable influence even on our scientific ideas. 

A single archetype can manifest in many different ways. Regarding the Mother archetype, Jung suggests that not only can it apply to mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, and mothers in mythology, but to various concepts, places, objects, and animals: Other symbols of the mother in a figurative sense appear in things representing the goal of our longing for redemption, such as Paradise, the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Many things arousing devotion or feelings of awe, as for instance the Church, university, city or country, heaven, earth, the woods, the sea or any still waters, matter even, the underworld and the moon, can be mother-symbols. The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to vessel-shaped flowers like the rose or the lotus. Because of the protection it implies, the magic circle or mandala can be a form of mother archetype. Hollow objects such as ovens or cooking vessels are associated with the mother archetype, and, of course, the uterus, yoni, and anything of a like shape. Added to this list there are many animals, such as the cow, hare, and helpful animals in general. 

Care must be taken, however, to determine the meaning of a symbol through further investigation; one cannot simply decode a dream by assuming these meanings are constant. Archetypal explanations work best when an already-known mythological narrative can clearly help to explain the confusing experience of an individual."

source: Collective unconscious - Wikipedia

"Application to politics and society"

"Elements from the collective unconscious can manifest among groups of people, who by definition all share a connection to these elements. Groups of people can become especially receptive to specific symbols due to the historical situation they find themselves in. The common importance of the collective unconscious makes people ripe for political manipulation, especially in the era of mass politics. Jung compared mass movements to mass psychoses, comparable to demonic possession in which people uncritically channel unconscious symbolism through the social dynamic of the mob and the leader.

Although civilization leads people to disavow their links with the mythological world of uncivilized societies, Jung argued that aspects of the primitive unconscious would nevertheless reassert themselves in the form of superstitions, everyday practices, and unquestioned traditions such as the Christmas tree.

Based on empirical inquiry, Jung felt that all humans, regardless of racial and geographic differences, share the same collective pool of instincts and images, though these manifest differently due to the moulding influence of culture. However, above and in addition to the primordial collective unconscious, people within a certain culture may share additional bodies of primal collective ideas.

Jung called the UFO phenomenon a "living myth", a legend in the process of consolidation. Belief in a messianic encounter with UFOs demonstrated the point, Jung argued, that even if a rationalistic modern ideology repressed the images of the collective unconscious, its fundamental aspects would inevitably resurface. The circular shape of the flying saucer confirms its symbolic connection to repressed but psychically necessary ideas of divinity.

The universal applicability of archetypes has not escaped the attention of marketing specialists, who observe that branding can resonate with consumers through appeal to archetypes of the collective unconscious."

source: Collective unconscious - Wikipedia