The Genius Carl Jung, the Collective Unconscious, and Science

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The purpose of this article is to make some brief observations about a recent article by James Cussen, entitled ‘Jung’s Collective Unconscious Explained’, with the subtitle ‘The strange story of the depths of the unconscious’.

The theme of the first part of his article is that Jung is something of an unmentionable, taboo figure in scientific and academic circles, because of his interest in supposedly mystical and occult topics. “Any line of investigation gravitating too close to the religious or the occult is met with immediate suspicion”. There is a “primal fear that the ocean of irrationality could still swallow the tiny island of reason called science”. For some he is therefore “a captain of quackery”, his work is “overlooked or dismissed out of hand”. “Academics warn their colleagues and students against uttering his name in an academic context even today”. “His very name is liable to get one ostracised”.

My response is that this is a problem for science and academia, not a reason to reject Jung, who should be congratulated for his willingness to investigate areas outside the normal scope of science, which will always remain very limited if it confines itself to topics only accessible to ‘reason’. As Cussen says: “Science is still in its rebellious adolescence”. We can only hope that one day it will grow up, and become a mature and wise adult.

He then goes on to say that, despite all this hostility, he is sympathetic to some of Jung’s ideas, especially his belief in a collective unconscious. Again there is much scepticism about this in ‘scientific’ circles, because it sounds suspiciously metaphysical. Cussen believes that this is undeserved, that “in the case of the collective unconscious, this reputation is wide of the mark”.

He believes that the concept of the collective unconscious is widely misunderstood. In his research he has indeed discovered some strange commentators who believe that it has something to do with a “paranormal hive mind” or panpsychism.

Cussen therefore attempts to set us straight about what Jung’s collective unconscious really is: “This layer contains the accumulated historical, collective experiences of humanity. It is… the psychology of the instincts of humanity”. He then asks what the contents of this collective aspect of the mind are. His answer is that they “relate to the common experiences of humanity. They are the mental component of the instincts”.

For Cussen therefore the collective unconscious is related purely to biology and instincts, the result of “four billion years of evolutionary refinement”, the mental components of the instincts “wired in alignment with these perennial aspects of being human”. “It is no more mystical than the freshly hatched turtle making a beeline for the sea”. It would seem therefore that he is attempting to rehabilitate Jung, to make him more acceptable to conventional science by removing any suspicion of metaphysics. Despite his subtitle, there is nothing at all strange or unscientific in his eyes about the depths of the unconscious.

One wonders if Cussen has actually read Jung on this topic. Let’s be generous and say that most of what he says is true, for Jung did write about instincts in these terms. At best, however, this is only half the story. How is it possible to write about the contents of the collective unconscious without once mentioning the word archetypes? This word literally means ‘original types’, and is therefore considered to mean ‘blueprints’, thus organising causal factors, operating from a metaphysical dimension of the collective unconscious, shaping life at the material level. This was perhaps Jung’s most significant contribution to the understanding of the unconscious psyche.

As Cussen says, “Carl Jung was a thinker who followed his own north star indifferent to the dangers of being labelled heretical”. Thank goodness for that. He does not have to be rehabilitated, in order to make him more acceptable to scientists incapable of freeing themselves from the prison of reason. He should rather be recognised for the genius that he was, and that ‘science’ is put back in the place where it rightly belongs.

Carl Jung

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I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com