Collective unconscious  

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 According to Carl Jung, hell represents, among every culture, the disturbing aspect of the collective unconscious. Illustration: "Hell" detail from Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights
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According to Carl Jung, hell represents, among every culture, the disturbing aspect of the collective unconscious.
Illustration: "Hell" detail from Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
works of art in the collective unconscious

Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology originally coined by Carl Jung. While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology", Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious particular to each human being. The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species."

In the "Definitions" chapter of Jung's seminal work Psychological Types, under the definition of "collective" Jung references representations collectives, a term coined by Levy-Bruhl in his 1910 book How Natives Think. Jung says this is what he describes as the collective unconscious. Freud, on the other hand, did not accept the idea of a collective unconscious.

Contents

Jung's definitions

For Jung, “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'.

Archetypes and collective representations

Jung considered that 'the shadow' and the anima/animus differ from the other archetypes in the fact that their content is more directly related to the individual's personal situation', and less to the collective unconscious: by contrast, 'the collective unconscious is personified as a Wise Old Man'.

Jung also made reference to contents of this category of the unconscious psyche as being similar to Levy-Bruhl's use of collective representations or "représentations collectives," Mythological "motifs," Hubert and Mauss's "categories of the imagination," and Adolf Bastian's "primordial thoughts."

Minimal/maximal interpretations

In a minimalist interpretation of what would then appear as 'Jung's much misunderstood idea of the collective unconscious', his idea was 'simply that certain structures and predispositions of the unconscious are common to all of us...[on] an inherited, species-specific, genetic basis'. Thus 'one could as easily speak of the "collective arm" - meaning the basic pattern of bones and muscles which all human arms share in common'.

Others point out however that 'there does seem to be a basic ambiguity in Jung's various descriptions of the Collective Unconscious. Sometimes he seems to regard the predisposition to experience certain images as understandable in terms of some genetic model' - as with the collective arm. However, Jung was 'also at pains to stress the numinous quality of these experiences, and there can be no doubt that he was attracted to the idea that the archetypes afford evidence of some communion with some divine or world mind', and perhaps 'his popularity as a thinker derives precisely from this' - the maximal interpretation.

Marie-Louise von Franz accepted that 'it is naturally very tempting to identify the hypothesis of the collective unconscious historically and regressively with the ancient idea of an all-extensive world-soul'. New Age writers go unhesitantly further, claiming that Jung himself 'dared to suggest that the human mind could link to ideas and motivations called the collective unconscious...a body of unconscious energy that lives forever'.

Further reading

  • Michael Vannoy Adams, The Mythological Unconscious (2001)
  • Gallo, Ernest. "Synchronicity and the Archetypes," Skeptical Inquirer, 18 (4). Summer 1994.
  • Jung, Carl. (1959). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.
  • Jung, Carl. The Development of Personality.
  • Jung, Carl. (1970). "Psychic conflicts in a child.", Collected Works of C. G. Jung, 17. Princeton University Press. 235 p. (p. 1-35).
  • Whitmont, Edward C. (1969). The Symbolic Quest. Princeton University Press.


See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Collective unconscious" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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