Uncommon Sense

September 13, 2021

Collective Unconscious . . . or Collected Unconscious?

The philosopher/psychiatrist Carl Jung’s contribution to the “transcendental” aspects of out lives was the “discovery” of the collective unconscious.

What exactly this is is often dependent on who is describing it. One author describes it thusly: “This layer contains the accumulated historical, collective experiences of humanity. It is … the psychology of the instincts of humanity.” When asked what the contents of this collective aspect of the mind are his answer was that they “relate to the common experiences of humanity. They are the mental component of the instincts.”

Uh, okay.

It seems impossible to write about the contents of Jung’s collective unconscious without once mentioning the word archetypes. This word literally means “original types,” and is therefore considered to mean “some kind of plan which organizes causal factors, operating from a metaphysical dimension of the collective unconscious, shaping life at the material level.”

This was considered by many to be Jung’s most significant contribution to the understanding of the unconscious psyche. (I love the fact that the word psyche stems from a word meaning “breath,” likely derived from the “breath of life.” It has also been equated with the word soul, which I find ironic in that therefore a soul is just hot air.)

The reason I labeled Jung as a philosopher/psychiatrist is that he seems to be desirous of resurrection Plato’s forms, including a quasi-transcendent realm in which they exist.

The existence of “unconscious minds” is accepted today with little quarrel. It encompasses all of the mental activities, mental skills, and what have you, that we are unaware of as they operate. The use of “brain scanners” (fMRI, etc.) has brought us the first real data we can use to study these activities. For example, we now know that imagining an image utilizes the same brain regions as seeing an actual image, even when we are dreaming.

But imparting special powers to these “realms” is not at all supported. So, cataloging things that our unconscious minds can do may find that we share certain abilities in common, after all we are using the same hardware, does not imply any connectivity at all. There is a great deal unaccounted for when children are trained first by their parents and then by their teachers. And, of course, people take Jung’s work run off making claims such as “we are all connected,” or “we are all one,” and even “the universe is conscious and we are just motes in that consciousness.”

I would be shocked to not find commonalities in our unconscious mental abilities. And we can collect this information but does that imply a “collective” unconscious? I think not. In Jung’s time he did not have the tools we have now and we may yet discover such a thing, but it will hinge, I am sure, on what mechanism allows one unconscious mind to connect to others to make a collective possible.

I think such conclusions are hugely premature, driven by a strange to me desire on the part of many fellow humans that there be a “transcendent realm,” or collection of things that transcend reality. I can’t think of anything more steeped in superstition and con artistry. The ideas of heavens and hells, after lives of various other sorts, fairy realms, etc. The idea of a “life after life” couldn’t be more contradictory. The idea of reincarnation is also rife with transcendent tomfoolery. Where are souls stored before they are recycled? What the heck is a soul? Who operates the machinery? etc. (As a teacher, I found reincarnation very attractive in that if you didn’t learn your lessons, you had to repeat a grade, or grades(!), until you did!)

The idea of something, anything, transcending reality is so potent an idea that it takes collected unconscious abilities and elides them over to collective unconscious abilities, almost whether that makes any sense at all.

If Jung hadn’t have done it, casual readers surely would.

If these people had a theme song, I suspect it would be this:

Is That All There Is?
I remember when I was a little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the
Burning building out on the pavement

And I stood there shivering in my pajamas
And watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself
Is that all there is to a fire?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old
My daddy took me to the circus, the greatest show on Earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads

And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over I said to myself
Is that all there is to the circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world
We’d take long walks by the river or
Just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
And when I didn’t I said to myself
Is that all there is to love?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me, I’m not ready for that final disappointment
Because I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
That when that final moment comes and I’m
Breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Leiber Jerry / Stoller Mike

4 Comments »

  1. I’m not sure about collective conscious but I do remember some parties back in college when we were collectively unconscious by about three in the morning.

    Jung was really popular when I was first in college in the early 1970s but I never saw the attraction. They were semi-hippie types that eventually morphed into the “new age” thing with their crystals and ley lines and I don’t know what all else. Jungism, at least in some circles, took on almost the aspects of a cult. It’s been a long, long time since I read any of that stuff but I do remember it made me uncomfortable because I got the impression he believed feelings and imagination were more important than rational thought and that mysticism was more important than psychology or psychiatry. Basically that myth was more important than reality. One of my professors at the time absolutely loathed Jung, calling him something like a self proclaimed messiah who was more interested in satisfying his own ego than in anything else. Perhaps that has colored my opinion about the man but I can’t even read his stuff any more. I have the Undiscovered Self and one or two others sitting on the shelf and I tried to start reading it, got about two pages into it and thought, nah, I have better things to read, and ended up being diverted for an hour or so by reading one of Wodehouse’s Psmith stories. A much better and far more entertaining way to spend my time, I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — September 13, 2021 @ 10:54 pm | Reply

    • I am a philosophy buff but I have never been drawn to Jung. And if psychiatry were an actual science, you’d think they would be getting better results by now. I remember a study that showed that talking to a bartender about a problem was as helpful as talking to a psychologist. I have been helped by mental health professionals in the past (and not so much by other MHPs so I won’t say they are useless but psychological theories based solely upon conjecture have proven to be far from helpful. (I am shocked that there are still Freudian psychiatrists working.)

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 14, 2021 @ 10:52 am | Reply

      • IMO, mental health specialists do their best work just my listening. Beyond that? Not a whole lot. Which is why the bartender theory has validity. 😉

        Like

        Comment by Nan — September 14, 2021 @ 11:27 am | Reply

      • One of my sons suffers from serious depression. It wasn’t psychology or psychiatry that helped him, it was pharmacology. It wasn’t until his primary care physician discovered the correct drug therapies that his symptoms improved.

        Like

        Comment by grouchyfarmer — September 14, 2021 @ 11:43 am | Reply


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