Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious

collective unconscious

In the past I would use the words coincidence, chance, serendipity, collective unconscious, and synchronicity randomly as alternatives to the word luck. Little did I know that I was missing out on a huge opportunity to improve my life. The good news is that I am catching up fast, and so too can you.

Our universe is not random

Better late than never I now recognise that synchronicity is far more important than just a word. It is a whole philosophy. Carl Jung was fascinated by meaningful coincidences and described them as due to synchronicity. In other words, these coincidences were far from due to random chance. 

Jung was not the only person with these views, and Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli in particular were frequent guests at his dinner table. Both of these scientists were Nobel prize winners and took his work seriously, and for this reason if for no other, we should too.

A series of dinners took place between Einstein and Jung during the years 1909 – 1912. Jung later wrote, “It was Einstein who first started me thinking about a relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality…years later this stimulus led to my relation with the physicist Professor W. Pauli and to my thesis of psychic synchronicity.” 1 

Jung’s work is at least as popular now as when he was alive. Jung was a prodigious writer and researcher and was also fascinated by the paranormal. He felt that synchronicity could explain the unexplainable. Through his conversations with Einstein and Pauli he was familiar with the concepts of relativity and quantum physics. They all knew, as did others, that these two theories were mutually exclusive. If you believe in one theory the other theory cannot be correct, and this has remained so to the present day. 

Jung’s proposition to square this circle was that synchronicity could be explained as a “falling together in time”. Make of this sentence what you will! Is it too fanciful to speculate that Jung might have been suggesting that it is possible for an individual to co-exist on two or more different space – time dimensions? 

I think therefore I am not

Pauli continued to work with Jung, and they became close friends despite their 25 year age difference 2 . Their over-arching conclusion was that life was not a series of random events, but evidence of a deeper order to life. Jung regarded synchronicity as a spiritual awakening, and part of this deeper order. In his words:

“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.”

From the psychological perspective this concept shifts our thinking away from the over inflated opinions of the ego and the conscious mind to the far deeper understandings that surface from the unconscious mind and are part of this spiritual awakening. 

The awakened individual has the possibility, and more importantly, the ability, to tap into a more powerful and yet impersonal universal wisdom. These concepts are far from unique, and are shared with many religions and philosophies. Their roots go back thousands of years, and quite possibly much longer.

Whilst Einstein was far from convinced about Jung’s theories of synchronicity and quantum entanglement, he still left his thoughts open to “spooky action at a distance”. Tellingly though, he too also believed that we do not live in a random universe. He felt that all events are predetermined and these unorthodox beliefs eventually lead to his banishment from his Jewish religion. 

Jung’s similar conviction that we do not live in a random universe, and his concept of synchronicity, attracted considerable interest, and not surprisingly much criticism. He must have expected this, because although he wrote his paper in 1920 he did not present his findings in public until 1951, and eventually published it in 1952. 

A new era dawns

Carl Jung continued to develop other controversial views. Not least of these concerned what he called the collective unconscious, and in his view was the most misunderstood of his works. Nevertheless it is arguably his greatest contribution to our understanding of how the mind works. 

Despite his many critics in fairness to Jung it is important to remember that his views were first developed in 1916. This was long before another huge breakthrough in science that catapulted our understanding of who we are, where we came from, and why we behave as we do. 

This breakthrough was the discovery of the double helix, and for the first time scientists were able to explain the role of DNA in genetics and inheritance. It was pioneering work which gained Watson and Crick the Nobel prize in 1953.

Once again many years passed before Jung felt ready to present his conclusions about the collective unconscious to a wider audience. On a personal note, and perhaps even a synchronicity, less than 3 miles from where I currently live. 

One section of his presentation I find particularly chilling, not least because it has similar modern-day resonances. It lends at least some weight to his developing theory about the collective unconscious.

Archetypes

“There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will not fall prey to. If 30 years ago anyone had dared to predict that our psychological development was tending towards a revival of the mediaeval persecutions of the Jews, that Europe would again tremble before the Roman fasces and the tramp of legions, that people would once more give the Roman salute, as 2,000 years ago, and that instead of the Christian cross an archaic swastika would lure onwards millions of warriors ready for death – why, that man would have been hooted out as a mystical fool.”

Carl Jung, October 1936, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London

With our current knowledge of genetics and DNA it is not such a huge leap of faith to believe that our hard-wired emotions and instincts arise as part of our collective psychic inheritance, as does our anatomy.

In summary Jung believed that our unconscious mind is shared with all other members of our global tribe, living, and even dead. Our unconscious mind is the home of our instincts and populated by primordial images and archetypes. I find archetypes a confusing word, and so take the liberty of suggesting that these are all character traits that have their origins in the reptile brain, which is the deepest part of our brain, and the home of our primitive emotions, drives, and instincts. 

The concept of our collective unconscious opens the door to the possibility that our unconscious mind is not only shared with members of our tribe, but with at least some other animal species too, although as far as I know Jung did not propose such a link. 

If you own a horse or a dog you will likely not be surprised by this statement. Many animal owners describe times when they feel as if they are communicating with their animals, or at least sharing the same thoughts and emotions.

It does not really matter what we call these deep instinctive desires and emotions. What is important is that we know we have them, know that our lives are affected by them, and affected a lot more than we might believe possible.

Carl Jung was a student of Sigmund Freud, until they parted acrimoniously. The main reason for this separation was their differing views on the unconscious. Freud considered our unconscious was personal to each individual, and crowded with sexual fantasies and repressions, whereas Jung considered the unconscious mind as quite the opposite, being impersonal, universal, and the soul of humanity.

Perhaps their differences were not as huge as they might have believed. Freud certainly believed in some kind of inherited instincts, and referred to them as archaic remnants. Whichever model you choose to support, the end result is the same. 

Free Will

We like to believe we have freedom of action, but the truth is that many of our behaviours are governed by inherited instincts. Left to its own devices our conscious mind will always try to drag us back to our older and more familiar thought patterns. This is the fundamental philosophy of determinism, a philosophy which is surprisingly shared by none other than Albert Einstein.

What relevance does the collective unconscious have to us? My suggestion to you is that it is a critical component in providing fresh insights at the right time, and in the right place. It is akin to a higher order of intelligence that can guide us more easily through life, if we are aware of it, and allow it freedom to flourish. 

We have to do nothing more. We just have to know that this power is out there for us to tap into whenever we need. It is a timeless source of infinite knowledge and hopefully wisdom. It is like our heart, which keeps beating roughly 70 times a minute, every minute, every month, and throughout our life. We rarely think about it because we do not need to. To do nothing sounds very simple, and indeed it is. The problem is that it can also be the most difficult thing to do, as I will explain.

Our failing is that we are human beings, and are instinctively curious, which is good. However, what is not so good is the size of our ego, and our limitless capacity for overthinking. What is even worse is our default state of believing that we can make improvements to anybody and everything that crosses our path.

A common expression is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This expression is repeated so many times because it is true, and because we find this advice so hard to follow.

Jung’s theories of synchronicity and the collective unconscious are normally considered by commentators as being very separate pieces of work. This is understandable because Jung’s theory of  the collective unconscious was first presented  in 1936, whereas his paper on synchronicity was presented in 1952, some 16 years later. Yet it is almost certain that he developed these fresh ideas in tandem, and whilst they might appear to be very separate, in reality they form his overarching vision of a higher order of wisdom and enlightenment that governs our universe.

I will leave you with a parting comment. I say to all of my clients at some point, “Whatever your problem, I can assure you that you already have the answer inside you. You just may not know where to find it, and it is my job to try and help you to do so.”

I have been saying this for at least the last three years, and cannot put my finger on when, or how, this conviction first surfaced. It is only in retrospect that I wonder whether this was yet another intuitive thought that grew in my reptilian brain and originated from the collective unconscious. 

I am firmly convinced that the collective unconscious exists and is functional in the way described. I have no proof of this and nor did Carl Jung of course. However, I do experience it from time to time and so do others. As explained in the theory, it is the reason why some people have premonitions. It is also the reason why some people are aware of a piece of good or bad news involving, for example, other family members before they have actually been told about it or met the individual concerned. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself.

I will immediately concede that I have not by any means read everything about these subjects, and much that I have read I have found extremely difficult to internalise. 

What I am certain about is that Einstein, Jung, and Pauli are giants among men, and we continue to develop fresh insights into how their minds worked, and the ideas they developed.

What do you think? Please let me know, and in the concluding chapter we will let you know about the forums we have set up to stimulate and continue these discussions.

One thing is for sure. When you begin to appreciate the wider implications of Jung’s work your life may never be the same again. It could just be a bit easier, and also a lot less stressful. If you only remember one thing, it is that we are not alone in this miraculous universe.

References

  1. http://jungcurrents.com/jung-einstein-and-synchronicity
  2. – Pauli and Jung: The Meeting of Two Great Minds, by David Lindorff Ph.D., Quest Books (November 1, 2004)

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