Psychology•July 20, 2023
Both sought to map out the territories of the mind, but it was Carl Jung who delved into a realm that transcends personal experience. At the crossroads between individuality and universality, the collective unconscious emerges.
Embark with us as we navigate the profound waters of the "collective unconscious," unveiling its scientific support and its profound resonance with many people.
Émile Durkheim, a pioneering figure in sociology, coined the French term "conscience collective." His idea of collective consciousness refers to beliefs and sentiments common to average members of society, forming a determinate system that has its own life. According to Durkheim, this system could be investigated using the sociological method, and it sheds light on how societies maintain cohesion and solidarity.
Carl Jung, the pioneering Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, expanded upon prevailing notions of shared human experience. While earlier thinkers like Durkheim had raised the subject of this "collective consciousness" — a shared set of beliefs, values, and societal norms that bind communities together, Jung ventured deeper.
He introduced a distinction between the personal unconscious - a reservoir of each individual's memories and experiences, and the collective unconscious - a more profound layer teeming with archetypes.
These archetypes, such as The Hero, The Mother, or The Shadow, are universal symbols and patterns that resonate across cultures and eras, deeply embedded in our shared human experience. They surface in dreams, myths, and artistic expressions, revealing shared psychic structures that shape the perceptions of all humans.
This is where the distinction and interplay between "collective consciousness" and "collective unconscious" become crucial.
Durkheim's collective consciousness captures the conscious agreements that make societal cohesion possible — the realm of shared traditions, laws, and cultural norms.
Building upon this understanding, Jung proposed that the collective unconscious lies beneath this layer of shared consciousness. This realm is not about societal agreements but taps into innate, universal symbols and themes that inform societal structures and animate our dreams, stories, and behaviors. In this context, the collective unconscious is a bedrock of the human psyche, highlighting a universality that surpasses temporal, cultural, and individual boundaries.
The empirical path to proving Jung’s collective unconscious is a complex journey, threading its way through diverse fields of study.
Jung's exploration into the collective unconscious pointed towards shared archetypal symbols inherent within the human psyche. This notion is supported by various spiritual traditions, from the Hindu Kecak chanters of Indonesia to the 'gathered' meetings of American Quakers.
Similarly, studies have highlighted instances of collective consciousness during advanced states of group meditation and within oral cultures, such as the Australian Aborigines and the San people of Africa.
From the perspective of natural sciences, our current understanding seems to fall short in explaining these phenomena. But there is no shortage of theories.
Insights into the evolution of human communication reveal fascinating discoveries, such as mirror neurons, which respond to intentions and emotions. There is speculation that these neurons could be central in fostering collective experiences, playing a significant role in the emergence of language and reflective self-consciousness.
In the grand tapestry of humanity, the concept of collective consciousness serves as a gentle reminder that, beyond our cultural and experiential divides, we are united by an undercurrent of shared beliefs, sentiments, and archetypes.
"In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order." - Carl Jung.
Here at Meridian University, we encourage our students to deeply investigate the nature of the psyche. Our Psychology Program is designed to give you the tools to explore intimidating concepts such as collective consciousness and to recognize its value within multiple spaces.
If you are interested in learning about the symbols, psychological structures, and archetypes foundational to the human psyche, consider speaking with an Admission Advisor to learn more about our programs.