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Does the Jungian notion of collective unconsciousness have any legitimacy in the light of modern neurobiology and epigenetics?


Carl Jung has long ago proposed a rather controversial notion of collective unconsciousness [1, 2, 3],

a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual.

While the complete original formulation of the idea may be interpreted as unfalsifiable and hence unscientific, suppose that we try to redefine it to some more modest idea, e.g. a set of inheritable subconscious memories, impulses and reactions present in populations/groups, with some expected degree of variation.

Now, it has been shown that memories reside in specific brain cells [4]. What is also known is the direct impact of environment (which - as far as I understand it - also includes our thoughts, feelings and expectations) on gene expression and epigenetic inheritance. In the light of these insights, could the notion of collective unconsciousness be revitalized and interpreted in some non-trivial way that could be used to better understand the way we dream, feel, identify with characters in stories etc.?

In other words, do new discoveries in neurobiology, evolutionary biology and epigenetics shed any new light on Jung's writings (e.g. timescale for such structures to adapt between generations etc.) and perhaps confirm some of his ideas? If not, could experiments be performed that would provide some new insights? Or is the idea so trivial at its core that basic evolution is enough to explain it in its entirety?


Watch the video: Introduction to Carl Jung - The Psyche, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (January 2022).