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Jung's Conception Of The Collective Unconscious

The nature of the person and the psyche in Jungian psychology

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Jung saw the human psyche as made up of layers or strata (see diagram above).

 First is the conscious mind.  The ego is the term given to the organisation of the conscious mind, being composed of conscious perceptions, memories, thoughts, and feelings [Calvin S. Hall & Vernon J. Nordby, Link to Amazon com A primer of Jungian Psychology, p.34 (1973,  New American Library)].

 Those mental contents that the ego does not recognise fall into the Personal Unconscious.  The Personal Unconscious is made up of suppressed and forgotten memories, traumas, etc.  All psychic contents which are either too weak to reach consciousness, or  which are actively supressed by the ego, because the latter is threatened by them.

 Thus far Jung is in agreement with his old teacher Freud, in supposing the existence of the Unconscious mind, which includes all that is not immediately accessible to everyday waking consciousness (i.e. the  Conscious mind or Ego).  Conscious and Unconscious  are thus the two opposed parts of the psyche.

Jung's great contribution however was to divide the Unconscious itself into two very unequal levels: the  more superficial Personal, and the deeper Collective, Unconscious.

 Everyone has their own Personal Unconscious.   The Collective Unconscious in contrast is universal.   It cannot be built up like one's personal unconscious is; rather, it predates the individual.  It  is the repositary of all the religious, spiritual,  and mythological symbols and experiences.  Its  primary structures - the deep structures of the  psyche, in other words - Jung called "Archetypes"; a  later-Hellenistic Platonic and Augustinian Christian  term that referred to the spiritual forms which are  the pre-existent prototypes of the things of the  material world.  Interpreting this idea psychologically, Jung stated that these archetypes were the  conceptual matrixes or patterns behind all our  religious and mythological concepts, and indeed, our  thinking processes in general.

 Actually, Jung's choice of the term "archetype" is in some senses misleading.  For in the late Platonic tradition, the archetypes con-stitute a totally spiritual reality; the original  perfect spiritual reality or realities which generates the imperfect physical realities; the "thoughts in the mind of God" of Stoicism and Platonic Christianity.

 But Jung interprets his archetypes in a biological sense.  He says (no doubt due to the Darwinian influence of his age) that they are  "inherited", and that they "have existed since remotest times".  Yet even "remotest times" can still be located temporally.  Such times may have occured an enormously long time ago, but they are  still temporal.  Plato and his successors would  never speak of the Ideas or Archetypes or Spiritual  Prototypes coming into being in some primordial  past; for they saw these as spiritual realities, and  therefore eternal; beyond time altogether.

 For Jung then, the Collective Unconscious is  not, as many of his popularisers claim, a kind of "Universal Mind" or metaphysical reality, like the Platonic World of Forms, but rather an ultimately  biological reality.  The Spiritual concepts of  Platonism are not seen as metaphysical, but biological, or rather, psycho-biological.  The Jungian  schema can thus be represented as follows:


----------------------------------------------------
Cn        Cn       Cn      Cn       Cn      Cn
| |       | |      | |     | |      | |     | |
PUn       PUn      PUn     PUn      PUn     PUn
| |_______| |______| |_____| |______| |_____| |
   C O L L E C T I V E    U N C O N S C I O U S
 [Archetypes = Instincts]
BIOLOGICAL INSTINCTS
PHYSICAL ORGANISM (DNA or hereditary material)
----------------------------------------------------

Jung's biological theory of the Collective Unconscious.

 Now, it cannot be denied that there is a subphysical (the biological subconscious) as well as a supraphysical (the psychic unconscious).  Yet care must be taken not to confuse the two.  And it seems to me logical to assume that the motifs Jung was concerned with - the  psycho-spiritual forces of transformation - pertain  to the supraphysical rather than the subphysical.

Certainly, later in life Jung downplayed the "biological" aspect of his psychology, and even discarded it altogether, preferring to see the archetypes in a more Platonic sense of prexistent spiritual entities.  And in his voluminous alchemical writings he was more concerned with the dynamics of the psyche, and its transformation, than with explaining how the psyche or the archetypes came about in the first place.  So it would be unfair to judge Jung on these grounds.  Jung himself obviously did  not consider abstract theories concerning the  metaphysical or cosmological origin of the archetypes as important a practical here-and-now understanding of how the psyche worked, and how spiritual transformation and the growth to greater wholeness occur.

An occult critique of Jung's conception of the Collective Unconscious



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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 5 October 1999, last modified 15 July 2004